Living a long and healthy life is a rudimentary part of the human existence. Although immortality is likely a goal that we will never reach—there are certain habits that can be practiced to help increase our chances of longevity. Although some elements such as genetics may simply be out of our control—all people have the capability of adopting positive lifestyle traits that can decrease the likelihood of disease and premature death.
For years people have been aware that healthy lifestyle choices such as healthy diet and regular exercise can increase our chances of survival. The problem is that many researchers have been unable to specifically quantify longevity based on certain factors until recently. One recent study that followed more than 100,000 people over several decades finally has provided us with discernible statistics measuring the impact of certain lifestyle choices.
Hi, I’m Sean Torbati. It’s no secret that eating vegetables and avoiding excessive amounts of sugar has the capability of positively impacting our lives. However, few studies have quantified the impact of lifestyle choices until now. The history of man has seen lifespans drastically increase over the last several hundred years—until recently.
Although life expectancy increased in 2019 for the first time in four years (1)—life expectancies have still trended somewhat downward in recent years. Recent studies have shown that adopting certain lifestyle choices can add a decade or MORE to life expectancy, so if you’d like to live well into retirement years it would be useful to take note of this study.
If you’ve been born sometime within the last half-century, this likely isn’t news to you. Although smoking rates have decreased substantially in recent years, it’s still worth noting that 14% or 1 out of 7 adults still smoke cigarettes today (2). That means 34 million Americans still choose to smoke today.
Smoking amongst individuals will vary group to group depending upon various factors including gender, age, race, education level, household income, region, marital status, and more. Many studies point out that smoking drastically decreases life expectancy by as much as 13 years (3).
Choosing to never smoke is first of five critical lifestyle choices for adding years to your life (4). However, if you choose to quit smoking by the age of 40 you still decrease your chances of dying from smoking related diseases by 90%.
Body Mass Index (BMI) score of <25
Body mass index or BMI is a measurement used to assess health. The value is derived based on a person’s weight and height. Although BMI readings can vary from person to person—correlations show that substantially higher BMI’s may lead to health complications.
Here’s the standard BMI chart for used for assessing height-to-weight ratios:
- Underweight (<18.5)
- Normal (18.5 to 25)
- Overweight (25 to 30)
- Obese (30+)
Obviously BMI is just an imperfect approximation of overall health. Other factors such as genetics and bone structure have the ability to play a role in skewing BMI measurements, but studies have pointed to substantially higher BMI’s being correlated to shorter life-expectancies (5).
Maintaining a BMI of 18.5 to 25 is the second lifestyle habit for increasing lifespan (4). Although BMI is a useful tool, it’s likely the least important trait for increasing lifespan.
Exercise >30 Minutes Per Day
Performing regular exercise has been proven to be a useful tool for improving both physical and mental health. It also happens to be the third lifestyle habit for living a longer life (4).
Now the study doesn’t go into intricate detail about exercise choice but performing a combination of resistance and regular cardiovascular training works for many people. In fact, some research has claimed that the effects of exercise can be felt even ten years later!
Decreasing your body fat mass while increasing lean muscle mass also helps to improve overall health and well-being. Furthermore, other studies have pointed to exercise’s effectiveness in improving mental health equally as well as physical health (6). Self-esteem, positive mood change, and increased focus are just a few of the positive mental health benefits exhibited by regular exercise goers.
Moderate Alcohol Intake
Moderate alcohol intake can take on a different meaning for some people. While some consider a couple drinks per week to be moderate—others believe they can drink several drinks per day in moderation.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate alcohol consumption as up to 1 drink per day for women and 1 drink per day for men (7). So in short, having a glass of wine with dinner will likely not have deleterious effects on your overall health. Just be sure to watch the calories as a single glass of wine or beer can have several hundred!
High Diet Quality Score
For the purposes of the study, it defined a high diet quality score as falling within the upper 40% of the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (4). The score includes several components including total fruit, whole fruits, total vegetables, whole grains, total protein, and more.
Although this measurement may be imperfect, I think we can all benefit from following a healthy diet based around whole food consumption including vegetables, fruits, nuts, and lean meats. Additionally, individuals should strive to stay away from excessive processed foods and sugar. Having a healthy diet is the last component of increasing health and longevity.
Final Results of the Study
Using data collected from more than 110,000 total people—the study entitled, “Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population” concluded that adopting these five lifestyle choices can greatly improve our chances at living a longer, healthier life.
Life expectancy increased by as much as 14 years in women and over 12 years in men. Although this isn’t necessarily rocket science, we should all take extra care in practicing these few simple habits for living a healthier life.
- Don’t ever smoke (quit if you currently do)
- Maintain a relatively healthy weight
- Perform regular exercise
- Consume alcohol in moderation
- Eat a high quality diet
It’s really as simple as that. As the research indicates, simply choosing to live your life within these few boundaries can greatly impact your life and allow you to potentially live several years longer!
If you have any additional questions related to this study, please feel free to reach out to me with questions or feedback. Let’s live a healthy, happy, productive life together. Just follow these few simple rules and you’ll be on your way to a healthier life.
Sean Torbati - PN Certified Nutritionist | EXOS Phase 3 Training Specialist
Co-Founder, Ambrosia Collective