BOSTON — Want to live into your nineties or beyond? Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health identified in a recent study the five most important healthy habits that can increase life expectancy for Americans by a decade or more.
According to the authors, the five health commandments are: eat a healthy diet; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy body weight; drink alcohol only in moderation; don’t smoke.
Easy enough, right?
The study is touted as the first comprehensive analysis that demonstrate how low-risk lifestyle changes can greatly influence life expectancy. The authors wanted find out how the United States could improve its overall life expectancy, which falls well behind other high-income countries. In 2015, the US ranked 31st in the world in life expectancy, at 79.3 years.
“This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the U.S. population,” says Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study, in a release. “However, adherence to healthy lifestyle habits is very low. Therefore, public policies should put more emphasis on creating healthy food, built, and social environments to support and promote healthy diet and lifestyles.”
To reach their findings, the research team evaluated health data from 78,865 women over 34 years, and 44,354 men over 27 years. They honed in particularly on the habits above, more specifically at people who spent at least 30 minutes a day performing moderate to vigorous exercise; maintained a low BMI (18.5-24.9); drank no more than two glasses of wine per day for men or one glass for women; along with following a healthy diet and not smoking.
Researchers estimated participants who didn’t follow any of the habits had a life expectancy at age 50 of 29 years for women and 25.5 years for men. Yet for those who did adopt these guidelines, after age 50 women could expect to live another 43.1 years, compared to 37.6 years on average for men.
Hu and his team also compared people’s life expectancy and probability of contracting (and dying from) common conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. They found that people who maintained the healthiest lifestyles according to their data were 82% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 65% less likely to die from cancer when compared to people who maintained the least healthiest lifestyles.
The full study was published in the journal Circulation.