ROCKVILLE, Md. — Scientists have identified eight healthy habits that people should start doing when they turn 40 in order to extend their lifespan by decades. The study discovered that men who integrated all eight habits by their 40th birthday lived approximately 24 years longer than those who did not adopt any. Similarly, women who followed these habits gained an additional 21 years of life.
These findings are based on a study of the lifestyles of 700,000 Americans. The eight habits include: maintaining physical activity, avoiding opioid addiction, abstaining from smoking, managing stress, adopting a healthy diet, refraining from regular binge drinking, ensuring good sleep hygiene, and fostering positive social relationships.
“We were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three, or all eight lifestyle factors,” says Xuan-Mai T. Nguyen, a health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a fourth-year medical student at Carle Illinois College of Medicine.
“Our research findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for both public health and personal wellness. The earlier the better, but even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it still is beneficial,” Nguyen continues in a media release.
The research team analyzed data from medical records and questionnaires, collected from 719,147 participants in the Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program between 2011 and 2019. The analysis included data from adults between 40 and 99 and accounted for 33,375 deaths during the follow-up period.
Among the factors studied, low physical activity, opioid use, and smoking had the greatest impact on someone’s lifespan, each associated with a 30 to 45-percent higher risk of death. Stress, binge drinking, a poor diet, and inadequate sleep hygiene each had a link to a roughly 20-percent increase in the risk of death. The absence of positive social relationships was associated with a comparatively modest five-percent increase in mortality risk.
The findings, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, emphasize the role of lifestyle factors in contributing to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
“Lifestyle medicine is aimed at treating the underlying causes of chronic diseases rather than their symptoms,” Nguyen adds. “It provides a potential avenue for altering the course of ever-increasing health care costs resulting from prescription medicine and surgical procedures.”
Although the benefits declined with age, they were still significant.
“It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” Nguyen concludes.
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South West News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.