Last month, new research presented at the American Society for Nutrition’s yearly meeting explored the behaviors that can add decades — yes, decades — to your life.
The study was made up of 719,147 people from the Million Veteran Program who ranged in age from 40 to 99. The data used was from questionnaires and medical records from 2011 to 2019.
According to the research, there are eight lifestyle factors you should focus on to add years to your lifespan. And you’re probably already doing some of these things.
Here are the eight factors:
- Good social relationships
- Good sleep hygiene
- Not binge drinking
- Following a healthy diet
- No history of smoking
- Maintaining minimal stress
- Not developing an addiction to opioids
The study found that people with all eight of these behaviors at age 40 saw a significant increase in their lifespan compared with those who had not adopted any of these habits. Women who followed all eight practices had a roughly 21-year increase, while men had a roughly 24-year increase.
Additionally, folks who followed all eight had a 13% reduction in death during the study timeline when compared with those who did not follow any of these practices, according to Medical News Today.
You don’t have to follow all eight to see benefits. And you can start on most after 40.
Though the biggest life expectancy gain was seen in those who followed all eight factors, those who claimed just a few — and even one of these — saw benefits, too, according to a news release about the study.
Additionally, the release noted that it’s also advantageous to adopt such habits even after 40. But, as with many things related to better health, the earlier you start the better.
Certain behaviors had the biggest reward.
While all eight practices are important for longevity, certain ones resulted in a higher risk of death, according to the news release: A history of smoking, the use of opioids and not getting enough exercise were tied to a 30% to 45% increase each in one’s risk of an earlier death, according to the study.
In other words, it’s doubly important for you to prioritize these practices.
Dr. Patrick Coll, a geriatrician and medical director for senior health at the University of Connecticut, said physical activity is paramount for his aging patients. Coll was not involved with the study.
He said there are many advantages that come with exercise, ranging from muscle strength, which “allows people to be independent and prevents people from falling,” to psychological benefits.
“People often feel better after having exercised,” said Coll, “so that’s probably the single biggest thing I recommend to older adults I see, is regular physical activities.”
And when it comes to exercise, Coll said you should focus on three main areas.
“You can broadly divide exercise into resistance training, which is muscle strengthening exercise; aerobic exercise, where you’re getting your heart rate up; and then balance and flexibility, which I would put in the same category,” Coll said.
As we age, we gradually (and unknowingly) lose muscle strength, Coll said. By the time you do notice, it’s often too difficult to get it back, he said.
“There’s a variety of issues with a decrease in strength, which includes a propensity to fall,” Coll said.
Though many people can easily move around independently, it is not the case for all adults and often results in the need for 24-hour care. For example, if you can’t get yourself to and from the bathroom, you won’t be able to live on your own.
Coll said if you prioritize fitness, especially strength training, you can help your body stay strong enough to get you where you need to be.
Not everyone has the same access to these practices.
Coll pointed out that where you live, your income and even your culture can affect what you have access to when it comes to many of these factors, including nutrition, exercise and community services.
“As we look at these types of interventions and as we might try and educate the public about them, I think we have to be sensitive to the fact that not everybody will have the resources at hand to adopt these type of lifestyle changes,” Coll said.
In other words, inequities in society can’t be ignored.
Additionally, the study authors pointed out that these results are observational and do not prove causality ― meaning these behaviors may not be the exact cause for this increase in lifespan.
But in the release, the study author noted that this research is part of an important and growing area that links lifestyle decisions with premature death and chronic disease.