7 science-backed habits linked to a long life

We hear a lot about longevity, especially in relation to antiaging products and health treatments. It’s also a growing industry – in 2021, the world saw $2 billion invested in longevity businesses. But beyond serums and procedures, there is one all-important factor that can influence our longevity: our habits.

There’s plenty of advice out there on the world wide web about lifestyle changes you should or shouldn’t make in order to live healthier and achieve more longevity. But how much of this advice is actually reliable? Blogs and videos might tell you to, say, consume plenty of green tea – but is that actually helpful?

If you plan to assess your current lifestyle and adopt healthier habits, then you should make sure you’re following advice that’s tried and true. Here are 7 habits linked to longevity as backed by science.

What is longevity?

Longevity, lifespan and healthspan are used interchangeably, but they’re not quite the same thing. 

Longevity is a combination of health and lifespan – if you live beyond the average life expectancy and generally have good health, you have longevity. Meanwhile, lifespan means how long you live, while healthspan means how long you maintain good health.

Many factors contribute to longevity, but mainly it comes down to three factors: genetics, environment and lifestyle.

  • Genetics

Your family medical history can determine whether you develop certain diseases and conditions. Heart disease and cancer, for example, may be genetically passed on, as can diabetes.

  • Environment

Your place of residence can also influence your health and longevity. If you live in a higher socio-economic class, you have access to cleaner water and better healthcare. You’ll also likely experience fewer external stressors.

  • Lifestyle

Unhealthy habits may negatively affect your health and therefore your longevity. While genetics and environment are largely out of our control, we can manage our personal lifestyles and make positive changes. In particular, we can change our habits to healthier ones proven to reduce our risk of mortality.

Unhealthy habits may negatively affect your health and therefore your longevity

Habits for long life as backed by science

Change your lifestyle for the better with these scientifically-verified habits. These are all products of research into their associations with better health and longer lifespans.

#1 – Eat fewer calories

Research recommends that half of each meal should consist of fruits and vegetables. Try for a variety in colour and type, such as mixing leafy greens with carrots. Potatoes, corn and other starches don’t count as vegetables, though, and may have an adverse effect on your blood sugar.

Whole grains are also preferable to refined grains such as white rice or bread. Meanwhile, for proteins, go for fish, poultry, or beans and nuts. These are healthy and versatile sources of protein, versus red meats or processed meats such as sausages. 

This will balance the number of calories you take in and ensures you’re consuming healthy fats, carbs and proteins. [1

You should also aim to control your portions and reduce your daily caloric intake. This protects against chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which affect your overall health. [2]

#2 – Avoid or stop smoking

Smoking has established and reliable associations with a risk of cancer, disease and early death. Of the 30 most common causes of mortality in humans, smokers experience an increased risk of 23. This is particularly pronounced in lung cancer, which can be directly caused by smoking.

You may lose at least 10 years of your life if you take up smoking, particularly if you continue the habit past the age of 40. Stopping before your midlife point can reduce your mortality risk due to smoking by 90%. [3]

Smoking has established and reliable associations with a risk of cancer, disease, and early death

#3 – Have a healthy eating pattern

There are several factors linked to “healthy eating patterns” that people should observe, namely:

  • Limiting red/processed meats
  • Reducing intake of sugary, salty and high-fat beverages
  • Eating the daily recommended amount of fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming whole grains and nuts
  • Maintaining a healthy intake of omega-3 and polyunsaturated fats

These are all linked to longer lifespans and a significant reduction in the risk of mortality – particularly due to cardiovascular complications. [4]

#4 – Exercise regularly

Averaging at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week – or at least 15 minutes a day – can greatly increase your life expectancy. Persons who are generally inactive are 17% more at risk of mortality than those who exercise 15 minutes a day. Then every additional 15 minutes of activity further reduces mortality by 4%. [5]

Averaging at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week – or at least 15 minutes a day – can greatly increase your life expectancy

#5 – Ensure moderate alcohol intake

Light to moderate intake of alcohol – about 150ml of wine a day – may reduce your risk of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke and general all-cause mortality. However, excessive consumption of alcohol (particularly of liquors and spirits with high alcohol concentrations) may lead to cardiomyopathy, hepatic cirrhosis and even hemorrhagic stroke. [6]

#6 – Manage stress and anxiety

If you experience chronic stress or anxiety, you may be shortening your lifespan. 

Research shows that anxiety increases mortality (even adjusting for depression), with increased risks for cancer and cardiovascular disease. Middle-aged women, for example, may experience a 77% increased risk of mortality if they suffer from anxiety. [7]

Men also experience an increased risk of mortality for those with anxiety disorders. [8]

Of course, anxiety doesn’t just “go away,” but you can make certain lifestyle changes to help manage it. Regular exercise and healthy eating have positive effects on anxiety. If medication and therapy are accessible to you, there’s no shame in taking prescription meds and speaking with a psychiatrist. It’s essential that you manage your anxiety disorder through the most effective means to avoid decreasing your lifespan.

#7 – Socialise and stay happy

Having healthy social support has reliable associations with lower mortality rates. Nurturing your social circle and maintaining good relationships with the people around you leads to “positive biological profiles.” This means that having fun with friends and staying happy has a positive physiological influence on cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune function. [9]

Healthy social relationships also positively affect our mental health, while social isolation leads to psychological and physiological degeneration. People who have solid and supportive social connections tend to be healthier and live longer than peers who suffer social isolation. [10]

Living healthy for longevity

People who adopt these healthy habits tend to outlive their peers – and can even gain 12–14 years of life, on average! They greatly reduce your risk of morbidity and mortality by up to 74%. [11] They’ll also allow you to maintain your personal well-being even as you age.

Longevity may feel out of your control, but there are actions you can take that will allow you to live a long and healthy life. Start these habits today and watch as they positively impact your life – and change you for the better.

REFERENCES

[1] https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-eating-plate/
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20395504/
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3547248/
[4] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/healthy-habits-can-lengthen-life
[5] https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(11)60749-6/fulltext
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22336255/
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19013760/
[8] https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/the-british-journal-of-psychiatry/article/
anxiety-and-the-risk-of-death-in-older-men-and-women/B5E817458B74EE7A4CEFDC3D97FCB0E9
[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16758315/
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/
[11] https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2018/04/
5-healthy-habits-may-increase-life-expectancy-by-decade-or-more/

The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.