Study of over 700,000 people reveals life expectancy gains associated with healthy lifestyle choices.
Is there such a thing as a longevity mantra? A routine or set of guidelines that can help you extend your lifespan and healthspan – in a nutshell, giving you more life in your years and more years in your life?
A new study involving over 700,000 US veterans reports that people who adopt eight healthy lifestyle habits by middle age can expect to live substantially longer than those with few or none of these habits.
While it’s a list full of the usual suspects, having such a large data set has allowed the research team to put some numbers alongside these pillars of longevity.
The eight habits are:
- Being physically active
- Being free from opioid addiction
- Not smoking
- Managing stress
- Having a good diet
- Not regularly binge drinking
- Having good sleep hygiene
- Having positive social relationships
According to the results, which were presented at NUTRITION 2023, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, men who have all eight habits at age 40 would be predicted to live an average of 24 years longer than men with none of these habits. For women, having all eight healthy lifestyle factors in middle age was associated with a predicted 21 additional years of life compared with women with none of these habits .
Presenting the results at the meeting, Xuan-Mai T Nguyen, health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs and rising fourth-year medical student at Carle Illinois College of Medicine, said the team were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three or all eight lifestyle factors.
“Our research findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for both public health and personal wellness,” she said at the Boston meeting. “The earlier the better, but even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it still is beneficial .”
For the study, scientists used data from medical records and questionnaires collected between 2011-2019 from 719,147 people enrolled in the Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program, a large, nationally representative study of US veterans. The analysis included data from adults age 40-99 and included 33,375 deaths during follow-up.
Overall, the results showed that low physical activity, opioid use and smoking had the biggest impact on lifespan; these factors were associated with around a 30-45% higher risk of death during the study period. Stress, binge drinking, poor diet and poor sleep hygiene were each associated with around a 20% increase in the risk of death, and a lack of positive social relationships was associated with a 5% increased risk of death .
According to researchers, the findings underscore the role of lifestyle factors in contributing to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease that lead to premature disability and death. The results also help to quantify the degree to which making healthy lifestyle choices can help people reduce their risk of such diseases and live longer.
“Lifestyle medicine is aimed at treating the underlying causes of chronic diseases rather than their symptoms,” said Nguyen. “It provides a potential avenue for altering the course of ever-increasing health care costs resulting from prescription medicine and surgical procedures .”
The estimated gain in life expectancy from adopting the eight healthy lifestyle factors grew slightly smaller with age but remained significant, meaning that adopting healthier habits at an older age can still help you live longer.
“It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” said Nguyen, although she noted that as an observational study, the research does not definitively prove causality. However, the findings align with a growing body of research supporting the role of lifestyle factors in preventing chronic diseases and promoting healthy aging .