Are healthy habits worth cultivating? A recent study suggests healthy habits may help people tack on years of life and sidestep serious illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. After all, if you’re going to gain an extra decade of life on this earth, you want to enjoy it!
What did this research focus on?
Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at data from more than 73,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) who were followed for 34 years, and more than 38,000 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) who were followed for 28 years.
In a previous study using the same data, these researchers had found that five low-risk lifestyle habits are critical for a longer life expectancy. The more of these habits people had, the longer they lived. The habits were:
- a healthy diet, which was calculated and rated based on reports of regularly eating healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and avoiding less healthy or unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and excess sodium
- a healthy physical activity level, measured as at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity, like brisk walking
- a healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index (BMI), which is between 18.5 and 24.9
- never smoking, because there is no healthy amount of smoking
- low-risk alcohol intake, 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.
Even if they had only one of these habits, participants lived two years longer than if they had none. And if by age 50 they regularly practiced all five, women lived an extra 14 years and men lived an extra 12. That’s over a decade of extra life!
Are those extra years healthy?
In this new study, researchers wanted to know if those extra years were also healthy years. Participants were asked in follow-up questionnaires if they had developed medical problems like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes), or cancer. The answers were verified by a review of medical records.
The study found that having at least four of the five healthy habits gave people significant protection against developing any of these illnesses: on