A new study suggests that Americans could add years to their lives by adopting several healthy lifestyle habits.
Government statistics estimate that an American who is currently 50 years old can expect to live another 30 to 33 years. The new study revealed that those who practice five healthy lifestyle habits could add approximately a decade to that life expectancy, Web MD reported.
According to the study, the key habits are eating healthy; not smoking; exercising regularly; maintaining a normal weight; and drinking only in moderation.
The suggested healthy lifestyle habits are not new, but researchers said the new findings put those choices in a different perspective.
“Our findings have significant public health implications, because they demonstrate the great potential of diet and lifestyle changes in improving life expectancy,” said senior researcher Dr. Frank Hu, chairman of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association, contended that the five healthy lifestyle habits “can empower every one of us to make a huge difference,” and that it is realistic for everyone to adopt the habits.
Hu’s team found, however, that in recent years only 8 percent of U.S. adults have met all five goals.
Published April 30 in the journal Circulation, the results were derived from two studies that have followed more than 123,000 U.S. health professionals since the 1980s who regularly reported detailed information on their diets, exercise habits and other lifestyle factors.
The study found that, on average, people who adhered to the five healthy lifestyle habits were 74 percent less likely to die during the study period, versus those who maintained none of those habits. Additionally, the findings revealed that those who followed all five healthy habits were also 82 percent less likely to die of heart disease or stroke, and 65 percent less likely to die of cancer.
In the study, “regular” exercise meant moderate or vigorous activity for at least 30 minutes a day.
“That isn’t a crazy amount of exercise,” Steinbaum said. “It doesn’t require you to join a gym.”
Moderate drinking was defined as no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, and no more than two per day for men.
People involved in the study were considered to have a “healthy” diet if they scored in the top 40 percent on a standard measure called the alternate healthy eating index. Although Hu did not provide precise descriptions of what those healthy diets, he said that the scoring system gave participants points for eating vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, fish and poultry, and “good” fats from sources like olive oil and nuts. Participants were are also rewarded for minimizing added sugar, red meat and sodium.
Web MD reported, “The researchers estimated that at the age of 50, U.S. women who’ve maintained those five healthy habits can expect to live another 43 years. Their male counterparts can expect to live for roughly 38 more years. The outlook was much different for women and men who’d achieved none of those lifestyle goals. They could expect to live another 29 and 25.5 years, respectively.”
Steinbaum noted that the findings illustrate how much “personal power” people have.