Everybody knows that if you want to live a long time, you’ve got to maintain your health. They say there’s no fountain of youth. But a comprehensive new Harvard University study is the latest report to break down exactly how much extra time you can get yourself on this planet if you follow these five small positive life habits.
Published in the journal Circulation, a team of Harvard 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 specific habits would see 14 more years of life, and men would add 12 years. These habits also decrease the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer, the two leading causes of death in the United States.
Want to live longer yourself? You’d be wise to adopt these five habits:
- Give up smoking
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the primary cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. It accounts for more than 480,000 deaths every year. If you smoke, quit. If you haven’t started smoking, keep it that way. Other studies have shown that on average if you smoke, you’ll die seven years earlier than you otherwise would.
- Maintain a healthy weight
The Harvard study found that people with a low risk of early death had a Body Mass Index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. According to the National Institute of Health, people with BMIs above 25 are considered overweight, and people with BMIs above 30 are considered obese. While BMI calculations aren’t always the most reliable, research has shown that gaining just a few pounds can shave years off your life.
Looking to get started on a weight loss journey?
- Don’t drink too much
According to the CDC, it can lead to both obvious health problems like cancer and heart disease, and less-obvious ones like car crashes, violence, and risky behaviors. Guys who keep their booze to about two drinks a day lived the longest. For this analysis, moderation drinking in men was limited to 5 to 30 grams of alcohol a day, which are roughly two 12-ounce beers.
- Eat a quality diet
It’s a bit difficult to define a healthy diet by Harvard’s standards in this summary, but they describe it as having “a high diet quality score (upper 40 percent).” Of course, you probably already know what a healthy diet looks like. Start with foods that are high in antioxidants.
The team at Harvard assessed people’s diets using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index, which emphasizes food quality so whole grains over refined, and whole fruit over juices. Guys who ate higher-ranking foods like green leafy vegetables, oatmeal, fish, nuts, and legumes tended to live longer.
- Exercise 30 minutes or more a day
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,
“Adults who are physically active are healthier and less likely to develop many chronic diseases than adults who aren’t active — regardless of their gender or ethnicity.”
The study determined that walking for as little as 30 minutes a day is enough to live longer, provided it’s at a moderate or vigorous pace. There are plenty of other reasons to get in gym time, too. Research has shown that being active can improve memory, mood, and learning.