Add 7 years to your life with these healthy habits
People who don’t smoke, maintain a healthy weight, and drink alcohol in moderation can expect to live seven years longer than the general population, indicates a new study. What’s more, they can expect to remain in good health for most of those extra years.
The study, published in the journal Health Affairs, used data from the Health and Retirement study to examine the collective effects of smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption. Study authors note that nearly 80 percent of Americans reach the age of 50 having smoked cigarettes, been overweight, or both during their lives. While previous studies looked at the effects of singular behaviors on health and longevity, this was the first study to examine the collective effects of several key behaviors on total life expectancy and the onset of disability.
Researchers identified participants who had never smoked, had never been obese, and drank alcohol only in moderation, and found that their life expectancy was seven years longer than other study participants. They also delayed the onset of disability by up to six years. The healthy individuals had a total life expectancy even longer than the Japanese, who are known to have the highest life expectancy of any major country (83.84 years compared to 78.74 years for Americans).
While advances in medical technology are often regarded as the key to increasing life expectancy, study authors note that the healthy habits analyzed in the study cost nothing and are available to everyone. Further, a moderately healthy lifestyle is enough to experience the benefits identified in the study. “Avoiding becoming obese, not smoking, and consuming alcohol moderately is not an unrealistic goal,” says Mikko Myrskylä, one of the study authors and Professor of Social Statistics at the University of Helsinki.
Each of the three key risk behaviors — smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption — was associated with both decreased lifespan and healthspan (healthspan is the portion of life characterized by good health). However, the risk behaviors impacted health in different ways. Smoking was found to shorten life expectancy but not hasten disability; obesity was found to be associated with an earlier onset of disability; and excessive alcohol consumption was found to be associated with both decreased lifespan and a reduced healthspan.
The study results underscore the importance of focusing on preventive health. The most positive takeaway, according to Myrskylä, is that a longer life does not have to be characterized by poor health. The same habits that increase our life expectancy also increase the number of years that we are able to enjoy and benefit from good health.
The results have implications not just for individuals but for society as a whole. Measures that improve the health of a society’s older populations can help drive down health care costs. Healthier older citizens can also continue to participate in the labor market and be active in social roles that contribute to society, such as helping take care of children.
Data analyzed for the study came from the Health and Retirement study, which examined the health and behaviors of Americans between the ages of 50 and 89 from 1998 to 2012. Individuals who reported having no limitations related to daily activities — such as walking, dressing, getting out of bed, and eating — were characterized as being free of disability. Those who had smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lives were classified as people who never smoked, and those with a BMI below 30 were considered not obese. Men who had fewer than 14 drinks per week and women who had fewer than seven drinks per week were considered moderate drinkers.
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