Want to live 10 years longer? You may have to revamp your lifestyle.
There are five habits that, when done together, could add more than a decade to your life expectancy, according to a study released Monday by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The good news: 10 years is a lot of extra time. The bad news: You’ll have to cut out junk food and being a couch potato.
Here’s what the study recommends you do:
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise 30 minutes or more a day
- Maintain a healthy weight (Specifically, a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 — you can find yours here.)
- Don’t drink too much alcohol (No more than one 5 oz. glass of wine per day for women, and two glasses for men)
- Don’t smoke (ever)
Men and women who followed the healthiest of lifestyles were 82% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 65% less likely to die from cancer compared with people who lived unhealthy lifestyles over the course of 30 years, according to the study, published online in the journal Circulation.
The researchers analyzed 34 years of data from more than 78,000 women and 27 years of data from more than 44,000 men. The researchers estimated the women who adopted these five habits would see 14 more years of life, and men would add 12 years.
The healthy habits that the Harvard researchers pinpointed may sound obvious, but they’re not easy to adopt. For starters, that recommended BMI might be difficult for many Americans. The average BMI for the average American man is 28.6, up from 25.1 in the early 1960s. Anything over 24.9 is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is regarded as obese.
There are a few ways to slowly make them a part of your life however, according to the National Institutes of Health. Become aware of your bad habits, whether they’re dipping into the office vending machine at 3 p.m. or staying out late and giving the gym a miss the next morning.
Also, don’t do it alone. Ask friends and family to try these healthy challenges with you. The National Institutes of Health also suggests looking ahead and imagining how you’ll feel when you accomplish your goals. “You’re never too out of shape, too overweight, or too old to make healthy changes,” the organization’s monthly newsletter suggests.
There are other factors to consider if you want to add years to your life or, at the very least, not shorten it. Along with exercising and eating nutritious meals, people need to have active social lives and get enough sleep, studies suggest. More than 40% of adults in the U.S. suffer from loneliness, which is linked to depression, dementia, anxiety and cardiovascular diseases. Insufficient sleep also lead to hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
Take into consideration what happens when you do the opposite of the Harvard study’s recommended habits:
- Poor diet leads to one in five deaths, according to a study by researchers at the University of Washington and published by the journal Lancet. A poor diet can also cause high blood pressure and diabetes, which are linked to eating the wrong foods. (The right diet, the study found, is one that incorporates whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds).
- Not exercising also leads to high blood pressure and diabetes, and people who are physically inactive are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, coronary heart disease and even cancer, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Falling below or above your proper BMI isn’t safe. Being underweight, where your BMI is below average, signals malnutrition and increases the risk of osteoporosis, a decreased immune function and fertility issues, according to Healthline. Having a higher BMI or having obesity causes chronic health conditions, such as asthma and bone problems.
- Overindulging in alcohol can lead to cancer, even a light intake, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
- Smoking has killed more than one in 10 people worldwide, according to a study published in Lancet — 11.5% of global deaths were attributed to smoking.
Given all that, those 5 good habits may not seem so bad, after all.