A comprehensive study was conducted by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to examine the relationship between healthy habits and lifespan. The study utilized extensive data from two well-known sources: the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS). These studies provided information on a large number of individuals over a significant period of time. The NHS followed over 78,000 women from 1980 to 2014, while the HPFS followed over 40,000 men from 1986 to 2014. In total, the study included data from more than 120,000 participants, with 34 years of data for women and 28 years of data for men.
The researchers analyzed the collected data on diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption, which had been obtained through validated questionnaires administered regularly.
What exactly constitutes a healthy lifestyle?
These five categories were selected because previous studies have demonstrated their significant impact on the risk of premature death. Here is how these healthy habits were defined and assessed:
- Healthy diet: This was evaluated and rated based on reported consumption of nutritious foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium.
- Healthy physical activity level: This was measured as engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on a daily basis.
- Healthy body weight: This was defined as having a normal body mass index (BMI) falling between 18.5 and 24.9.
- Smoking: In terms of smoking, there is no amount that can be considered healthy. In this context, “healthy” indicated never having smoked.
- Moderate alcohol intake: This was assessed as consuming between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. Typically, one drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, equivalent to 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Does maintaining a healthy lifestyle make a significant difference?
It appears that it does. According to this analysis, individuals who followed five specific healthy habits enjoyed impressively longer lives compared to those who did not follow any of these habits. For women, following these habits resulted in an additional 14 years of life expectancy, while for men, it was 12 years (assuming they adopted these habits at age 50). Conversely, individuals who did not practice any of these habits had a higher likelihood of premature death from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
The researchers of the study also calculated life expectancy based on the number of healthy habits followed by individuals. Surprisingly, just a single healthy habit, regardless of which one, extended life expectancy by two years for both men and women. Unsurprisingly, as the number of healthy habits increased, so did the lifespan of individuals. It’s unfortunate that I cannot provide visual representations of the graphs presented in the article, as they are quite fascinating. However, if you’re curious, the article is available online, and the graphs can be found on page 7, specifically Graph B titled “Estimated life expectancy at age 50 according to the number of low-risk factors.”
This finding is significant and supports previous research conducted in a similar vein. In a 2017 study using data from the Health and Retirement Study, it was discovered that individuals aged 50 and above who maintained a normal weight, never smoked, and consumed alcohol moderately lived an average of seven years longer. A comprehensive analysis in 2012, which included 15 international studies and over 500,000 participants, revealed that more than half of premature deaths were attributed to unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor diet, physical inactivity, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and smoking. There is a wealth of supporting research that further strengthens these findings.