We all want to live longer and healthier lives and longevity experts are on a mission not only to prolong your lifespan, but to increase the number of years you’ll live free of debilitating disease. Scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health assembled an international research team to discover how healthy lifestyle habits can extend your healthspan by up to ten years.

The British Medical Journal published the study on January 8. It looked specifically at years lived without diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer. Researchers examined self-reported data collected every other year since 1980 from nearly 175,000 healthcare professionals age 30 to 75. They found that people over 50 who had never smoked, maintained a healthy weight, ate a healthy diet, exercised regularly, and drank only a moderate amount of alcohol lived about 84 healthy years—a full decade longer than those who did not.

“In many ways, these health behaviors are interconnected,” says XinQi Dong, MD, a gerontologist and director of Rutger University’s Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research. “This study enables people to better quantify the years added.”

While the study suggests practicing all five of these habits provides maximum benefits, Ross Arena, PhD, a physical therapist researching rehabilitation and prevention says adoption of just one can be helpful. “What are you willing to do? Can you go for a walk a couple times per week? Something is better than nothing when you talk about healthy lifestyle habits,” he says. According to the study, adopting just one of these habits puts the expected healthspan at 77 years, with each subsequent habit practiced adding an additional three years.

Lifestyle habits:  

  1. Limit your alcohol intake – the researchers define moderate as one glass per day for women or two for men. Excessive alcohol intake is also linked to early-onset dementia. Limiting your drinking lowers your risk for heart attacks, strokes, or death from heart disease, thereby extending your healthspan. The key is moderation.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight – a healthy weight is defined in this study as a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight and over 30 is considered obese. Although society has become more accepting of all body types, Shauna Levy, MD, MS, a surgeon and assistant professor at Tulane University Medical Center, previously told Well+Good that obesity is still a serious medical issue. The World Health Organization says that obesity majorly puts people at increased risk for chronic diseases.
  3. Exercise regularly – if you’re getting roughly 3.5 hours of moderate to vigorous exercise each week, you’re significantly increasing your healthspan. “Not being active has tremendously detrimental health consequences,” says Dr. Arena. Regularly exercise can positively impact vascular health, risk of dementia, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and bone health. And while any form of exercise is good, research shows that doing a combo of static and dynamic activities, like strength training and running, has the biggest impact on heart health.
  4. Never smoke – you already know this, but a reminder doesn’t hurt. Smoking kills more Americans each year than illegal drugs alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, HIV, and guns combined, according to the CDC. It harms nearly every organ in your body. A 2015 study in The Annals of Epidemiology found that one in three cancer related deaths in the U.S. is caused by cigarette smoking. While tobacco smoking is highly addictive, the CDC also notes that smoking rates declined 7 percent from 2005 to 2018. If you’re looking to quit, reach out to the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association. All three offer online resources and a helpline you can call to direct you to resources in your area.
  5. Eat healthy Food- experts say the easiest way to eat healthy is to keep it simple with whole foods and lots of fruits and veggies. Be mindful of what you’re eating, and don’t force yourself to eat things you don’t like, or deprive yourself of foods you love. “Food should be enjoyable,” says Zeitlin. “You should be eating what you like to eat and want to eat.”

Listening to your gut and eating what you want can help break down the food shame that comes with diet culture. Language matters, too. Avoid referring to certain foods as “indulgences,” “cheating,” or “bad.”

Making these diet changes will increase your longevity. And this is the go-to healthy sweet treat for longevity experts.

Kara Jillian Brown, Well+Good; 1/10/20