Every few years, it seems like we get conflicting health and diet information, or well-meaning advice turns out to be wrong. Eat low- or no-fat foods! Choose margarine and vegetable oils over butter!
It’s no wonder the public is constantly confused about advice to follow. Just when you’ve got it down, something changes.
Luckily, a new study that looked at 30 years of data has laid the facts bare. How to add years to your life? Sticking to five healthy habits can add more than 10 years to life expectancy. (1)
5 Proven (!) Ways to Add Years to Your Life
How can you increase your life expectancy? The five healthy low-risk lifestyle factors that can add years to your life are: eating a healthy diet, never smoking, regular moderate-to-vigorous exercise, moderate alcohol consumption and maintaining a healthy body weight.
Each low-risk factor significantly reduced the risk of dying from all causes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. But when compared to people who didn’t meet any of the five factors, those who met the criteria for all of them had a 74 percent (!) reduced overall mortality risk.
For women, that translates to an increased life expectancy of about 14 years; for men, it’s 12 years. The recommendations came from researchers who pored over decades of data from the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which collected information from more than 78,000 women and 44,000 men.
What makes these five ways to add years to your life so powerful? Here’s how they extend your life expectancy.
1. Eating a healthy diet
There’s long been a connection between eating a diet free from processed foods and loaded with fruits and veggies and an increased life expectancy; Japanese following the Okinawa diet regularly live up to 100 years. And on the other side of the world, the Mediterranean diet’s focus on plants and healthy fats has helped reduce heart disease, one of the leading causes of death.
That’s because what we put into our bodies directly influences how they perform.
Think of it like a car: if you stopped putting gasoline in it and started giving it vegetable oil instead, would you get your far? No! It’s the same with your body. Eating processed foods that offer little nutritional value lead to inflammation, which is at the root of most diseases. And if you’re not getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best, you’re at a risk for deficiencies, obesity and disease.
As I alluded earlier, though, trying to figure out what to eat can feel confusing or overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be! My main advice is to stick to fresh fruits and veggies; healthy proteins like grass-fed beef and organic chicken; high-quality dairy, including yogurt and kefir; good-for-you fats like avocado, coconut oil and olive oil; wild-caught fish; and nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds and flaxseeds.
If you need a cheat sheet, my healing foods list will help.
2. No smoking
At this point, we all know that smoking is terrible for our health. It’s the leading cause of preventable illness and death worldwide, and can increase your risk of heart and lung disease, certain types of cancer and diabetes. But quitting is essential for your health.
It’s amazing how quickly some of smoking’s negative effects are mitigated once you put down the cigarettes. (2) In fact, of the ways to add years to your life, not smoking had the most powerful effect on how to live longer.
If you don’t smoke already, good! Keep it that way. If you are a smoker, it’s a tough, but definitely doable, road ahead. You might want to try some of these mind-body practices for quitting smoking to make things easier along the way.
3. Engaging in regular exercise
Can exercise add years to your life? Yes! Study authors found that 30 minutes a day of moderate-to-vigorous exercise was enough to keep death at bay. Don’t freak — this doesn’t mean you need to spend all your free time at the gym. Walking at a brisk pace was deemed enough.
The health benefits of exercise can’t be overstated. It’s not just about keeping a healthy weight or feeling good, both of which exercise do. Exercise has been proven to reduce your risk of 13 different types of cancer and chronic diseases. It’s something that, with the right modifications in place, nearly everyone can do anywhere.
Of course, if you’d like to minimize the time you spend exercising while maximizing its benefits, workouts like HIIT and Tabata are your best bets. And don’t skip strength training, which helps build muscle, protect your bones and burn calories long after sessions are over.
Don’t feel confident around dumbbells and machines? Start with these bodyweight exercises instead.
4. Drink alcohol moderately
Unlike smoking, which you should do none of, moderately drinking alcohol fits in with these five healthy habits to add years to your life. I’m not too surprised. The compounds in red wine, for instance, help protect the heart and may even prevent Alzheimer’s disease. (3) Plus, if you’re willing, drinking organic wine carries even more protective effects.
And with loneliness just as hazardous to our health as obesity, catching up with friends for a beer and banter can help maintain friendships.
Of course, keeping the drinking at safe, healthy levels is key here. For women and men older than 65, that means one drink a day. For men younger than 65, that’s two drinks. (4) If you’re having mixed drinks, opt for low-sugar mixing options, like soda water or 100-percent fruit juice.
5. Maintain a healthy body weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the ways to add years to your life. Again, not a shocker. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of diseases, certain types of cancer and more.
The study’s author’s came to this determination by looking at people’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Those with a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 had a lower risk of early death. There are, however, pros and cons of the BMI chart. It doesn’t take into account things like muscle mass and frame size or that body fat in certain areas, like belly fat, is more harmful than in others.
Being at a weight that’s appropriate for your gender, height, ethnicity and more is super important. But rather than relying solely on your BMI, I suggest you also pay attention to the visceral fat around your middle section; track markers related to metabolic disease, like high blood pressure and LDL cholesterol; and reduce non weight-related risk factors for obesity, like a highly processed diet and chronic stress.
- How to add years to your life? Researchers have identified five key ways.
- They include eating a healthy diet, not smoking, getting moderate exercise most days, drinking alcohol in moderation and maintaining a healthy body weight.
- These common sense suggestions may help you live up to 12 years longer.