Just five lifestyle habits can transform your health prospects in old age, and while they are uncomplicated, they may not be easy to implement all at once.
There are five habits in particular that, if established in middle age, could free an individual from chronic diseases later in life, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They are: eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight, not drinking excessively and never smoking. Living this lifestyle could prevent Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The researchers, who had come to this conclusion in a study released years ago, are doubling down on their conclusion.
“This study provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free,” said Yanping Li, senior research scientist in the Department of Nutrition and an author of the study. Previous studies found these lifestyle habits improve life expectancies and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, but they haven’t touched on how these routines would impact those years of living a longer life without disease.
The Harvard researchers found that women who developed four out of five of these habits at age 50 lived 34 more years free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, compared with those who did not maintain this lifestyle, and lived nearly 24 more years disease-free. Men who started incorporating four out of five of these lifestyle habits at age 50 lived 31 more years free of chronic disease, compared with their counterparts without this lifestyle who lived 23.5 more years without disease.
The authors analyzed 34 years of data from more than 73,000 women and 28 years of data from more than 38,000 men participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. The latest findings were published online at BMJ.com, a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Americans are living longer today than ever before, but some suffer from numerous chronic illnesses. The number of seniors with four or more chronic diseases was expected to double between 2018 and 2035, according to a study published in the British scientific journal Age and Ageing. Two-thirds of added life expectancy (3.6 years for men and almost 3 years for women) will be spent suffering from those illnesses.
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Even starting years after the Harvard researchers suggest — such as in your late 50s to early 60s — could have a significant effect on your health later in life. A healthy 60-year-old male who regularly exercises, eats well and sleeps at least eight hours a night could expect to have an additional 13 years of healthy living, according to researchers at the Goldenson Center for Actuarial Research.
Like with many resolutions and new goals, starting with small tweaks to a routine may be best. For some, that could mean taking the stairs when possible, while for others, it could be consuming more home-cooked meals, instead of takeout. Other changes to embrace for a healthier long life? Socializing, which deters isolation and loneliness, and learning new skills, which challenges the mind.