Habits to Have in Middle-Age to Add Healthy Years to Your Life
Want to increase your life expectancy and increase the number of years you spend disease-free? Who doesn't? Turns out there are 5 healthy habits that if followed at age 50, can not only increase your life expectancy but also make more of those years free from major chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
A study from Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health featured in the British Medical Journal revealed the power of lifestyle factors on health and wellness for the rest of our lives. They found that engaging in 5 healthy habits in middle age may not only add years to your life but also make those years full of good health and free of chronic diseases. Of course, adopting healthy habits at any age may enhance your overall health and produce a healthier, longer life. However, this study focused specifically on habits in middle-age and how they are an excellent investment in your life.
As life expectancy in the world has increased dramatically, so has the number of people living their golden years battling medical problems, juggling multiple medications, and visiting health professionals. For those who are living with diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease research has also shown that they will have a shorter life expectancy than their disease-free peers. Engaging in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, physical inactivity, following a poor diet, and drinking higher amounts of alcohol is thought to contribute to a 60% increased risk for premature death and 7-18 years' loss in life expectancy.
The 5 habits described in this study included:
Limiting alcohol intake
Following a healthy diet
Maintaining a healthy weight
Researchers defined moderate alcohol intake as less than or equal to 1 drink per day for women and two or fewer servings per day for men. A healthy body weight was a body mass index of 18.5-24.9 and adequate exercise was moderate to vigorous physical activity about at least 30 minutes per day. They found that the more participants followed these healthy, low-risk lifestyle habits they increased the years they were able to enjoy disease-free. For men that equaled almost 8 additional disease-free years and women gained 11 years free from major chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer.
In this particular study, they found that 90% of diabetes, 80% of coronary heart disease, 70% of cardiovascular mortality, and 50% of cancer mortality was attributable to not following these 5 healthy habits. The lifestyle factors they were following are often goals many people aim for but struggle with maintaining. Quitting smoking can be challenging as is losing weight, but being a male who was a heavy smoker (at leave 15 cigarettes a day) and being male or female with obesity were both associated with the worst outcomes for life expectancy and disease. Giving people even more motivation to keep working towards those goals and not give up!
Other studies in the past have also shown a similar connection. One study of 65-year-old individuals found that those who never smoked and had higher levels of physical activity had life expectancies without disability of about 7 years more than their peers who smoked and engaged in less exercise. The CHANCES study found that a healthy lifestyle was associated with a 7-16 year longer life expectancy at age 50 and that most of those years were free of chronic disease. The Framingham Heart Study found a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, more years living free from cardiovascular disease, and higher life expectancy in those who had high levels of physical activity, didn't smoke, and maintain a healthy weight.
If you are reading this article and are already dealing with a chronic disease, hope is not lost. This study also went on to detail that people who follow these 5 healthy habits but also had a diagnosis of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer had improved survival after diagnosis of these diseases. This means you may still benefit from healthier years ahead and a longer life expectancy than people managing the same conditions but not leading a healthy lifestyle.
Do you find it hard to find the motivation to exercise and eat healthily, or are you struggling with giving up unhealthy habits? If so, maybe this new study will help give you the motivation you need to prioritize your health now and in the future. Focusing on your health RIGHT NOW may be the biggest investment you could ever make into your future. The sooner you invest in your health, the more fruitful the benefits!
For any changes you plan on tackling, it is important to make sure you sculpt your mindset appropriately. A healthy lifestyle is not a list of do's and don't's. It is not something that has a finish line. Perfectionism may have to be left at the door. Find what works best for you and go with it. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake, dust off and try again. The low-risk lifestyles described in this study are a great example that you don't have to go to extremes to improve your health and add years to your life. Balance, moderation, and prioritizing what's important to you are all keys that should all be included in your plan.