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Harvard researchers say these 5 healthy habits could add 10 years to your life

Want to live longer? Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at decades of data to find the habits that improved longevity.
healthy habits, how to live longer
These five healthy habits can add years to your life, according to Harvard researchers. Photo: iStock

What’s the secret to living a long, healthy life?

While there’s no magic potion, there are a few healthy habits that can keep you fit while adding 10 years or more to your life expectancy, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a report released this week, Harvard researchers said that maintaining the five healthy habits of eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol and not smoking could tack on more than a decade of extra years to your life.

Those are all things we’ve probably heard before, but it really is that simple, said study author Yanping Li in an email.

“The hardest part,” she continued, “is to try your best to keep the simple healthy behavior for long time.”

For the report, researchers looked at 34 years of data from more than 78,800 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and 27 years of data from more than 44,300 men participating in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

They looked at the association of those five lifestyle habits and mortality risk based on those years of repeated measurements in these studies, which have been going on for decades.

Those specific habits included not smoking, a low body mass index (of 18.5 to 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 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women, or up to two glasses for men), and a healthy diet.

When all those low-risk lifestyle changes were followed, researchers estimated that women gained on average 14 years of life, and men gained 12 years, compared to those who didn’t maintain those healthy habits.

Since these habits aren’t unusual suggestions, Li said that this report was meant to really show, in terms of quantity of life, how important they are.

“For example, a lot of smokers knew smoking is bad for their health or they might have a higher risk of lung cancer, but they do not know ‘how much,’ and just [being told] ‘a higher risk of lung cancer’ seems still too far from their life,” she said. “But if they keep in mind that they will live about 10 years shorter than their non-smoking siblings or friends, they would think of [quitting] or at least to reduce the cigarettes per day.”

“This is why we did our study,” she continued. “We try our best to show the scientific message in a simple, straightforward and [in] almost layman's term just to make sure everybody could easily take the message home: even with modest changes toward a healthy lifestyle, you will be paid back by a prolonged life expectancy.”