While it’s long been known that certain lifestyle factors can influence lifespan, the American study isolated the eight factors that have the biggest impact – being physically active, being free from opioid addiction, not smoking, managing stress, having a good diet, not regularly binge drinking, having good sleep hygiene, and having positive social relationships.
It found low physical activity, opioid use and smoking were associated with around a 30-45% higher risk of death, while stress, binge drinking, poor diet, and poor sleep hygiene were each associated with around a 20% increase, and lack of positive social relationships was linked with a 5% increased risk of dying.
Men who had all eight habits at age 40 were predicted to live an average 24 years longer than men with none of the habits, according to the findings, and women with all eight habits in middle age were predicted to live an extra 21 years, compared with women with none of the habits.
Xuan-Mai Nguyen, a health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said: “We 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. The earlier the better, but even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it still is beneficial.”
The researchers say the findings highlight how lifestyle factors contribute to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which are associated with premature disability and death.
How to embrace the eight healthy habits
Inspired to give your own lifestyle a boost? “If making these small but mighty adjustments could help you to live for an extra 20 years, maybe it’s time to make those changes,” says life and wellbeing coach, Natalie Trice. She shares the following insights and tips…
1. Do more exercise
Regular exercise can help prevent a wide range of major diseases – plus it’s great for keeping stress levels in check. “Going for a walk, having a swim, running with friends, even just a good old dance-off in the kitchen can get your heartbeat up and those feel-good endorphins pumping – so get your trainers on and start moving,” says Trice.
2. Manage stress
Trice suggests adopting simple stress-busting practices such as mindfulness meditation, and enjoying hobbies and sports. “These can profoundly impact overall wellbeing, as you bring your stress levels down,” she says. “This isn’t about pretending everything’s great, but rather looking at easy habits you can adopt that will take down the stress, which can lead to anxiety and burnout.”
3. Don’t smoke
Quitting smoking is an essential step in improving health and potentially adding years to your life. Trice points out that while some people may think reaching for a cigarette takes the edge off their stress, there are healthier ways to cope.
“Maybe going running or taking up yoga could be the release and focus you need, and one that will help you live longer, smell fresher and feel better,” she suggests. “Also, with the cost of cigarettes going up all the time, giving up will free up cash for the things in life that really need to be paid for.”
If you are struggling to quit smoking, talk to your GP about options available to help.
4. Don’t binge drink
“By cutting down on booze, you’re doing your body and brain a massive favour,” says Trice. “Drinking every night will impact your body and could affect your sleep and work performance. Enjoy life, but if you want to enjoy it for longer, then keep tabs on your drinking.”
Official guidelines suggest drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week (equivalent to six medium glasses of wine of six pints of beer), spread across at least three days.
5. Eat healthily
Generally speaking, a balanced diet that’s rich in fibre, whole grains, fruit and veg and lean protein, with heavily processed and sugary foods kept to a minimum, is linked with better health.
“We all know about eating five-a-day but doing this can be tough if you’re busy with family and work. If you can start to do this, you’ll feel better,” says Trice. “Focus on eating regularly and thinking about what you put in your body, so that it works for you, not against you.”
6. Don’t take drugs
Recreational drugs can harm health in a number of ways. Trice suggests those affected start by speaking to a trusted friend or their GP, and “look at the support which could not only extend your life, but save it”.
7. Try to get good sleep
Trice says: “It’s vital that we look at getting a decent night’s sleep, as this can help you feel so much better. Making sure you have a sleep routine in place can be helpful and can be as easy as having no screens in the bedroom, having a bath or shower before you hit the sack, as well as making sure the temperature is right and you have curtains to keep the light out in the mornings.”
8. Nurture positive social relationships
Trice observes: “If you’re able to nurture a supportive network of friends, colleagues and family, this can lead to improved mental and emotional well-being and a longer life.”
Lacking social connections? Look at local volunteering opportunities and community walks and groups. Making friends can take time, but even finding ways to regularly spend time and interact with others can help.