The secret to living longer lies not just in your genes, but your environment and lifestyle choices according to a Harvard study.
The secret to living longer
It’s assumed by many that genetics play a major role in life expectancy. However, a recent Harvard study places an emphasis on environmental and lifestyle factors as being more influential when it comes to life expectancy. Yes. The study looked at 34 years of data for more than 120,000 men and women. The researchers looked at how five low-risk lifestyle factors — not smoking, low body mass index (18.5-24.9 kg/m2), at least 30 minutes or more per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity, moderate alcohol intake (for example, up to about one 150ml glass of wine per day for women, or up to two glasses for men), and a healthy diet — might impact mortality.
It concluded that by following these five healthy lifestyle habits, the average lifespan goes up significantly – more than 12 years for men and more than 14 years for women.
1. Smoking: an enemy of longevity
If you want to live longer, make sure you’re among the non-smokers. This fact is relatively commonplace. But, the good news is that you can quit at any age to reap some benefits. The study suggests that it is never too late to repair some of the damage caused by smoking.
Quitting or reducing smoking has a positive impact on life expectancy with a separate study indicating that people who quit at the age of 35, exceeded the lifespan of those who continued to smoke by an average of up to 8.5 years.
If you’re keen to quit smoking, visit quit.org.nz or call 0800 778 778.
2. Turn the tide on weight gain
Aim to lose weight or maintain your current weight to fall within the study’s low-risk weight, determined as those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the range of 18.5 and 24.9. To calculate your BMI, simply divide your weight by your height in square metres. Alternatively use this calculator by the Ministry of Health. You can get started on a weight loss programme with the tips here.
3. Enjoy a regular exercise regime
Exercising regularly may help in reducing the risk of a heart attack and lower your risk of type two diabetes. It also assists in weight management and having a positive impact on the state of your mind.
The good news is that you don’t need to invest in a gym membership that costs you a lot of money to stay in shape. According to the Harvard researchers, 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous walking a day is sufficient to help you live longer.
4. Restrict your alcohol consumption
Harvard recommends limiting consumption to moderate amounts of alcohol. Although, the definition of moderate drinking is questionable; sitting at a point where its health benefits outweigh the risks. According to the study half to one drink for women and half to two drinks for men is defined as moderate drinking.
If you’re a teetotaller, stay that way. If your drinking habits exceed the moderate consumption level, consult your GP. If you’re looking for some tips on how to ease up on drinking, read this.
5. Eat a healthy diet
The Harvard study suggests that eating healthy food can extend your life. A healthy, low-risk diet according to the research comprises of an abundance of fruit, vegetables, nuts and whole grains while keeping red and processed meats, sugary drinks and sodium to a minimum.
The diet is similar to one followed by the residents of Icaria [Greece], which has the largest percentage of 90-year-olds.
Physical activity combined with a healthy diet that is almost devoid of processed sugar, white flour and refined foods is believed to be the reason behind this unusually long lifespan. The Ikarian diet is rich in whole grains, herbs, beans and locally-caught fish.
Here’s to more years
While this study is a good guide, it is important to note that it is based on averages. The five factors mentioned above will not automatically improve your life expectancy. However, by not smoking, consuming less alcohol, eating healthy, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy body weight, you’re giving yourself the best chance of a long and healthy life.
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Information correct as at March 2019. Sources - National Center for Biotechnology Information - December 2018, Ministry of Health - December 2018, NPR - December 2018, Superfoodly - December 2018, The Guardian - March 2019, The Harvard Gazette - December 2018