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Longer, Better Health—Could It Be This Easy?

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Your mother could have told you this, but now we have proof she was right.

Thanks to 34,000 men and 78,000 women who let scientists keep track of them for 34 years, we know which habits lead to more years of great health.

As you suspected, don’t smoke is on the list. So is keeping your body mass index (BMI) at 25 or less, getting 30 minutes of exercise a day, following a good diet, and drinking only moderately.

The differences these habits can make should give every parent reason to start preaching and the rest of us to start practicing.

For women: those who practiced four of the five habits enjoyed an extra 10.6 years of disease-free living. They generally remained cancer free 8 years longer and dodged cardiovascular disease for an extra 12 years.

For men: those who practiced four of the five behaviors gained 7.6 years of life expectancy. That meant an average of 6 more years without cancer, 9 more years without cardiovascular problems and an extra 10 years without diabetes.

People who always followed these healthy habits did extremely well, but those who slipped and converted also saw substantial benefits. Participants in the study who developed cancer then turned to healthy living lived an average of 23 years after their diagnosis. Those who got cancer but did not change their habits only survived an average of 11 years after diagnosis.

This data comes from the study reported in the journal BMJ in January 2020. It is a follow-up to a study reported the previous year in the journal Circulation.

Now, what if you are already over 50?

Well, you should be encouraged by some excellent news. At age 50 in the US, the average life expectancy for men is an extra 29.8 years. For women, it’s an extra 33.3 years.

But that span grows impressively for people who follow all five healthy habits. Men age 50 who maintain this healthy lifestyle enjoy an average 37.6 more years, and women who do the same grab an additional 43.1 more years. 

To reiterate: all you need to do to better your chances of a healthier life for more years is to follow this simple list:

1.      Don’t smoke

2.      Keep BMI below 25

3.      Exercise every day

4.      Maintain a good diet

5.      If you drink, practice moderation.


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