AGING
January 22, 2020

Pick Three -- or Four

Five lifestyle factors were found to lead to a disease-free old age. The more of them you put into practice, the healthier your are likely to stay.

If you’re still trying to decide what resolutions to adopt for 2020, or are in the process of renegotiating them with yourself, here’s some good news: Picking up four or five healthy habits could help you live years longer and free of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

That a healthy lifestyle can increase life expectancy and reduce the risk of developing diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes has been shown by many studies. What has been less clear is to what degree a healthy lifestyle might increase the number of years we live free of such chronic diseases.

A healthy lifestyle was found to provide between eight to 10 more years of disease-free living.

To get a clearer picture of this relationship, researchers at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health looked back over 34 years of information gathered from nearly 74,000 women and 28 years of information from about 38,000 men who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, respectively.

They identified five healthy lifestyle factors that seemed to lead to healthier aging — a healthy diet, regular exercise, being a healthy weight, drinking only a moderate amount of alcohol and not smoking. Diet was evaluated using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, and the higher the score, the better. Regular exercise was defined as at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day. Healthy weight was identified as a body mass index (BMI) between 18 and 25. Moderate alcohol intake was defined as less than a serving a day for women and two for men, and not smoking is, of course, a healthy lifestyle habit.

Women who applied four or five of the healthy habits at age 50 went on to live 34 more years without being diagnosed with diabetes, cardiovascular disease or cancer compared to 24 years for women who followed none of the healthy habits. In other words, a healthy lifestyle provided 10 more years of disease-free living. For men, following four or five of the healthy habits gave them 31 years free of chronic diseases while those who practiced none lived about 23 years before being diagnosed with one of the chronic diseases.

Men who were currently heavy smokers and men and women who were obese had the lowest disease-free life expectancy.

So, there you have it. Pick a resolution or three:

  • Improve your diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all.
  • Quit smoking, or don’t start.
  • The study is published in BMJ.

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