Healthy lifestyle: 5 keys to a longer life
This article was posted on “Harvard Health Publishing” on July 05, 2018 by Monique Tello, MD, MPH
What is a healthy lifestyle, exactly?
These five areas were chosen because prior studies have shown them to have a large impact on risk of premature death. Here are how these healthy habits were defined and measured:
- Meals, which calculated and rated based on the reported intake of healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium.
- Physical activity level, which measured as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity daily.
- Fit body weight, based on a normal body mass index (BMI units = weight in kilograms / square of height in meters), which is between 18.5 and 24.9
- Smoking, well, there is no healthy amount of smoking. “Healthy” here means never having smoked.
- Moderate alcohol intake, which measured as between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. Generally, one drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Does a healthy lifestyle make a difference?
As it turns out, healthy habits make a big difference. According to this analysis, people who met criteria for all five habits enjoyed significantly, impressively longer lives than those who had none: 14 years added for women and 12 years added for men (if they had these habits at age 50). People who had none of these habits were far more likely to die prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
Study investigators also calculated life expectancy by how many of these five healthy habits people had. Just one healthy habit (and it didn’t matter which one) … just one… extended life expectancy by two years in men and women. Not surprisingly, the healthier habits people had, the longer their lifespan.
A 2017 study using data from the Health and Retirement Study found that people 50 and older who were normal weight, had never smoked, and drank alcohol in moderation lived on average seven years longer. A 2012 mega analysis of 15 international studies that included over 500,000 participants found that over half of premature deaths were due to unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor diet, inactivity, obesity, excessive alcohol intake, and smoking. And the list of supporting research goes on.
So, what’s our (big) problem?
As the authors of this study point out, in the US we tend to spend outlandishly on developing fancy drugs and other treatments for diseases, rather than on trying to prevent them. This is a big problem.
Experts have suggested that the best way to help people make healthy diet and lifestyle change is at the large-scale, population level, through public health efforts and policy changes. (Kind of like motorcycle helmets and seat belt legislation…) We have made a little progress with tobacco and trans-fat-registration.
There’s a lot of push back from big industry on that, of course. If we have guidelines and laws helping us to live healthier, big companies aren’t going to sell as much fast food, chips, and soda. And for companies hell-bent on making money at the cost of human life, well, that makes them very angry.
Is this article useful for you? If yes, like for us.