As people live longer, the risk grows that they eventually will be diagnosed with deadly health problems.
But simply adopting five low-risk lifestyle factors can make a huge difference in your ability to keep major illnesses at bay, a new study has found.
The study -- published in January in the medical journal The BMJ -- examined the lifestyles and medical histories of more than 100,000 men and women.
Researchers found that people who adopted at least four of the five "low-risk lifestyle factors" lived free of three major chronic diseases -- cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes – for much longer than did those who failed to incorporate any of these lifestyle factors.
On average, women who adopted the healthful lifestyle lived a whopping 10.6 years longer free of the diseases.
Men gained a more modest – but still significant – 7.6 years on average.
The habits that can boost your health and extend your life are:
1. Not smoking
More than 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with a smoking-related disease, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Quitting this habit is one of the best things you can do to increase your lifespan.
Martin Raw, director of the International Centre for Tobacco Cessation, says “motivation strong enough to help overcome the addiction,” is a major key to quitting successfully.
Unfortunately, an abundance of motivation “is not enough by itself” to keep many smokers away from tobacco for good, he adds.
Such folks need additional help to quit smoking, such as medications or strong social support systems, including those of family, friends and medical professionals, Raw says.
2. Having a healthy body mass index (BMI)
Obesity has become a public health emergency in the U.S. One recent study found that if nothing is done to address the problem, nearly half of American adults will be obese by 2030.
Obesity can lead to myriad health problems. By contrast, keeping your body mass index (BMI) in a range between 18.5 and 24.9 may significantly improve the length and quality of your life, according to the study published in The BMJ.
Regular exercise and a healthful diet are cornerstones of improving your BMI number.
3. Drinking only in moderation
Cutting back on wine, beer and spirits is another key to living longer, the researchers found.
Better yet, cut out beer and spirits altogether. A 2018 analysis of alcohol use and its associated health impacts among people in 195 countries came to a stark conclusion: No amount of alcohol is safe to drink.
4. Working out every day
The study authors say engaging in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day is another key to staying disease-free.
If the thought of exercise is intimidating, start slow, says Jonathan Ross, the Annapolis, Maryland-based creator of the fitness workout Funtensity and author of “Abs Revealed.”
He encourages you not to fixate on guidelines for exercise, and instead to simply begin with an amount of activity you can handle. Then, build from there.
"Forget about tracking the weekly totals to meet physical activity guidelines,” he says. “One minute is more than zero, and five minutes is more than four.”
6. Eating a healthful diet
The study authors found a strong link between choosing a more healthful diet and living longer. Unfortunately, few Americans are heeding this advice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lays out the depressing statistics:
- Fewer than 10% of adults and adolescents eat enough fruits and vegetables
- 90% of Americans ages 2 years and older consume more than the recommended amount of sodium
- 50% of adults -- and 60% of youngsters between the ages of 2 and 19 -- consume a sugary drink on any given day
Recognize yourself in those numbers? Making some dietary changes in 2020 will go a long way toward increasing your odds of a long, healthy life.