April 24, 2024

8 healthy habits related to living longer years

Moderate exercise and positive social interactions are two of the habits associated with longevity

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People who adopt eight healthy habits by the age of 40 live about two decades longer than those who don’t. The effect is lower but still significant for people who have these eight habits by the time they are 60 years old.

Xuan Mai Nguyen at the VA Boston Healthcare System and her colleagues collected data on physical activity, diet, sleep, mental health, relationships and alcohol use from a group of more than 700,000 US veterans between the ages of 40 and 99. Participants completed a survey of their lifestyles between 2011 and 2019, and the researchers analyzed this along with data from their health records.

During the eight-year study period, 33,375 participants died. After adjusting for factors such as age, socioeconomic status and race, the researchers found that there were eight habits that were correlated with a significantly lower risk of dying from any cause during this period. These included eating a healthy diet, exercising, maintaining positive social relationships, managing stress, moderate alcohol consumption, never smoking, sleeping well and not having an opioid use disorder.

Physical activity had the greatest impact on longevity. Moderate exercise – the equivalent of briskly walking at least a few blocks a day – was associated with a 46 percent lower risk of dying during the eight-year time frame than being sedentary.

People without a history of opioid use disorder in the period had a 38 percent reduced risk of death than those who did, and never smokers had a 29 percent lower risk compared to current or former smokers.

A healthy diet including mostly whole, plant-based foods, and stress management—determined by a low score on a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) assessment—reduced the chances of dying during the period by about 20 percent. The same was true for moderation in alcohol, defined as drinking more than four alcoholic drinks a day, as well as sleeping seven to nine hours a night. Positive social relationships had the least impact, lowering the chance of dying within the time frame by 5 percent.

Using this information, Nguyen and her colleagues modeled the life spans of people who adopted all eight habits by the age of 40. Men and women lived almost 24 years longer and 23 years longer, respectively, than those who took no intervention. If participants implemented interventions by the age of 60, their lives could be 18 years longer, regardless of gender.

“These eight lifestyle factors are not about medication. Doctors don’t need to be involved,” says Nguyen, who presented these findings on July 24 at the American Society for Nutrition conference in Boston. “That’s very powerful because it shows that individuals can be real about their future [health].”

But, Jenny Jia at Northwestern University in Chicago says it’s not always that simple. “There may be barriers at the community level, the environmental level or the policy level to the adoption of some of these lifestyle behaviors,” she says. For example, people in low-income neighborhoods may not have access to healthy food options, which also tend to be more expensive and require additional preparation time than other less healthy options.

It’s also important to remember that this was an observational study, meaning it only found associations, says Nguyen. We cannot assume that the habits themselves extend their lifespan.


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