Numerous labs and startups are investing millions in attempting to find the miracle solution that will slow down ageing and increase life expectancy. But while we wait to find out who will win this frantic race for eternal – or just a longer – life, a scientific study has highlighted some simple but effective lifestyle changes that can be implemented at any age to gain an average of 20 years of life.
Presented at Nutrition 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition held last month, the research is based on data from 719,147 people enrolled in the Million Veteran Program, a vast survey gathering medical and genetic information from over 1 million US veterans.
The researchers specify that the analysis focused more specifically on adults aged between 40 and 99, and observed 33,375 deaths during follow-up. Nevertheless, the results are clear: the adoption of eight healthy habits as part of daily life by age 40 could enable men to live an average of 24 years longer, and women 21 years longer, than those who do not adopt any.
That said, it’s never too late to embrace a healthy lifestyle – the estimated gain in life expectancy decreases with age, but remains significant nonetheless.
So what do you have to do to live longer? Nothing out of the ordinary, according to the findings. It’s a matter of being physically active, not smoking, managing stress, eating well, sleeping well, not drinking alcohol excessively on a regular basis, not being dependent on opioids, and maintaining positive social relationships.
In other words, it should be sufficient to follow the recommendations of most national and international health authorities, including the World Health Organization (WHO), to maintain good physical and mental health.
While the nature of these habits came as no surprise to the researchers, the estimated gain in life expectancy appears to be far beyond what they had imagined when embarking on this large-scale study.
“We were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three, or all eight lifestyle factors,” Xuan-Mai T Nguyen, health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said.
“Our research findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for both public health and personal wellness – the earlier, the better. But even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it still is beneficial.”
It’s not easy to overhaul your lifestyle completely, so it may be simpler to take things one step at a time. According to the study, certain habits should be given priority.
The research shows that low levels of physical activity, smoking, and opioid use have a greater impact on life expectancy than other factors, with a 30-45% higher risk of death.
Next are stress, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and sleep hygiene, all of which increase the risk of death by 20%, followed by the absence or scarcity of positive social relationships (5% risk of death).
While this is the first study to report such an increase in life expectancy through the adoption of these eight healthy habits, many others have previously highlighted the impact of stress, diet, smoking and physical activity on health.
For instance, a large-scale study conducted on over 200,000 people recently revealed that taking 4,000 steps a day could be enough to reduce the risk of death; while separate research highlighted how junk food can affect sleep quality, in addition to its effects on cardiovascular health and diabetes.
This new research confirms just how beneficial adopting a healthy lifestyle can be for health and well-being, enabling everyone to act on the root of the problem rather than having to treat consequences further down the line.