Numerous studies remind us that as challenging as it can be, sticking with healthy habits, eating right, exercising, not smoking, controlling how much alcohol you drink and maintaining a healthy weight can help us live longer. But adding on a few more years is not so appealing if some or most of them are riddled with heart disease, cancer or diabetes.
A study made in 2018 by an international group of researchers led by scientists at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that adopting five healthy habits could help extend your life expectancy by 14 years for women and by 12 years for men.
eating a diet high in fiber and low in fats
exercising at a moderate to vigorous level for at least an hour every day
maintaining a healthy body weight
drinking no more than one alcoholic drink a day for women and two a day for men
To follow up on the data, the researchers wanted to know how many of those added years were considered as the healthy ones, free of three common chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And in a study published in BMJ, they report that a healthy lifestyle can indeed contribute to more years of life. The results suggest that women can extend their life expectancy after age 50 by about 10 years, fully disease-free, and men can add about eight years more, than people who do not have these habits.
Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the paper said that it is important to look at disease-free life expectancy because that has important implications in terms of improving the quality of life and reducing the overall health care costs.
To trace those patterns, the researchers of the study analyzed data collected from 111,000 American women and men. They were between the ages of 30 and 75 when they enrolled in the Nurses Health Study or the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study from 1980 to 1986. The participants answered questionnaires about their habits, lifestyle, and health every two years until 2014.
Based on the answers of the participants, each of them was given a lifestyle score from 0 to 5, which higher scores representing better adherence to health guidelines. The researchers then tried to connect these scores to how long the participants lived without cancer, heart disease or diabetes.
Women who reported to follow 4 or 5 of the healthy habits lived on average 34 more years without any chronic disease after age 50. Women who did not follow the healthy habits lived on average of 24 more years. Men who reported following 4 or 5 of the lifestyle habits lived 31 more years free of chronic diseases after age 50 while those who did not follow any of them lived on average 23 more years after they reached the age of 50.
He stated that none of the five factors stood out as more important than the others, the benefits in saving people from chronic disease and in extending life were similar across all five. The evidence suggests that the contributions of each healthy lifestyle factor are additive and the number of years of disease-free life gained eventually increased with each additional habit that people followed. He said that people should not be discouraged from adopting them if they find one or two factors difficult to follow.
And because all of the participants were over the age of 30, the findings also showed that it is never too late to change. It is always better to adopt a healthy lifestyle as early as possible, but even adopting them relatively late in life is still going to have amazing health benefits later on.