Five Healthy Habits Can Add Years to Your Life

First the good news: Scientists have identified five healthy habits that, taken together, could add a dozen or more years to your life. And now the bad news: These are the same old habits we’ve all heard about a thousand times, so there are no fancy new tricks or shortcuts. If you’re not already doing these things, you already know you should be.

The news here isn’t what we should be doing, according to a new report published in the journal Circulation; it’s how much of a benefit these healthy factors have on our life expectancies.

The long-term study of nearly 80,000 people found that women who maintained a lifestyle that incorporated all five of these healthy factors lived on average 14 years longer than women with the least healthy lifestyles. For men, the advantage was 12 years.

Let’s round up the usual suspects:

Healthy Weight

The study defined healthy weight as a Body Mass Index of between 18.5 and 24.9. And while the shortcomings of using BMI are well known and much discussed, the fact remains that on average, those with an overweight BMI (25–29.9) were 5% more likely to die during the course of the study, while those with an obese BMI (30–34.9) were 25% more likely to die, and those with a BMI above 35 had an increased risk of 67%.

Exercise

Getting 30 minutes per day of moderate or vigorous exercise will put you into a group that is 56% less likely to die of any cause than people who get no exercise at all. The chances of dying of cancer decrease by 45% among exercisers, while the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease drops by 61%.

Even those who exercised at lower levels saw a benefit. Exercising between 1 and 3.4 hours per week reduces risk of death by 44%, while exercising up to 1 hour per week still reduces the risk by 35%.

Smoking

This is the big one. The healthiest people in the study were those who had never smoked. Heavy smokers were three times as likely to die early, while moderate smokers were twice as likely to die as those who had never smoked. Former smokers live with a 40% increased risk of death compared to never smokers.

Healthy Diet

The study used the Alternate Healthy Eating Index to rate participants’ diets. The healthiest diet rating went to those who ate at least five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruit per day, one serving of nuts or legumes, no red meat or sugary drinks, and limited sodium. Compared to those with the least healthy diets, the healthy eaters were 30% less likely to die of cancer and 33% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

Moderate Drinking

This one gets at least a little interesting. Moderate drinkers (between 5 and 15 grams of alcohol per day for women, and between 5 and 30 grams per day for men) were in a better position than heavy drinkers, but they were also better off than non-drinkers. The heavy drinkers were 25% more likely to die of any cause than the moderate drinkers, while the teetotalers were 27% more likely to die (driven by an increased risk of cardiovascular disease). So a small bit of indulgence seems to be the sweet spot when it comes to alcohol.