A new study involving over 700,000 U.S. veterans indicates that by embracing eight healthy lifestyle habits by middle age, individuals could potentially add decades to their lives compared to those with few or none of these habits. The research offers compelling evidence that our daily lifestyle habits can significantly influence our life expectancy.
The eight habits are: being physically active, being free from opioid addiction, not smoking, managing stress, adopting a healthy diet, not habitually binge drinking, maintaining good sleep, and having positive social relationships.
The study estimates that men who adhere to all eight habits by the age of 40 could anticipate living an average of 24 years longer than men without these habits.
For women, the presence of all eight healthy lifestyle habits during middle age was linked with an estimated increase of 21 years in life expectancy compared to women lacking these habits.
Xuan-Mai T. Nguyen, a health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, expressed surprise at the extent of the potential benefits associated with lifestyle habits.
“We were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three, or all eight lifestyle factors,” Nguyen explained.
“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.”
For the investigation, the researchers analyzed data obtained from medical records and questionnaires collected from 2011 to 2019, involving 719,147 participants from the Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program.
This large-scale, nationally representative study included adults aged 40 to 99 and accounted for 33,375 deaths during its follow-up period.
Significantly, the analysis revealed that certain lifestyle habits had a profound impact on lifespan. Low physical activity, opioid use, and smoking posed the greatest risks, each associated with a roughly 30-45% higher risk of death during the study period.
Meanwhile, lifestyle factors such as chronic stress, binge drinking, poor diet, and inadequate sleep hygiene were each linked with approximately a 20% increase in the risk of death. The lack of positive social relationships correlated with a 5% increased risk of death.
The findings emphasize the critical role that lifestyle factors play in contributing to chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, conditions which often lead to premature disability and death.
Moreover, the results help quantify the extent to which healthy lifestyle choices can mitigate the risk of such diseases and promote longevity.
“Lifestyle medicine is aimed at treating the underlying causes of chronic diseases rather than their symptoms,” said Nguyen, adding that it provides a potential pathway to curtail the escalating healthcare costs generated by prescription medicine and surgical procedures.
The estimated extension in life expectancy from adopting the eight healthy lifestyle habits slightly decreased with age but remained statistically significant. Thus, even older individuals could potentially benefit from adopting healthier habits. “It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” said Nguyen.
Healthy lifestyle habits can encompass many different areas of life, and adopting them can significantly improve your health and well-being. Here are some you might consider:
Eat a balanced, nutritious diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid processed foods and limit your intake of sugar, sodium, and saturated fats.
Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise most days of the week. This could be anything from brisk walking to running, cycling, swimming, weight training, or team sports.
Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Good sleep is essential for your body to heal and rejuvenate, and lack of sleep can lead to a number of health problems.
Regular medical check-ups can help catch potential health issues early. Be sure to schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider.
Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated. The exact amount you need can depend on your size, activity level, and the climate you live in. However, a general rule is to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day.
Learn how to manage stress effectively. This could involve practicing mindfulness or meditation, taking time for relaxation and leisure activities, or seeking professional help if needed.
Avoid smoking and limit your consumption of alcohol. Both of these can lead to serious health problems.
Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can increase your risk of various health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer.
Pay attention to your mental health. If you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional.
Too much time in front of screens (TV, computer, smartphone, etc.) can lead to health issues. These include eye strain, poor sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle. Set limits for yourself and make sure to take breaks regularly.
Maintain strong social connections. Social isolation can negatively impact both your physical and mental health. Make an effort to stay connected with friends and family.