Simple changes like eating healthy and staying active could add more than a decade to your life, based on a recent study that links a healthy lifestyle to increased life expectancy.
Published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, this study explored the reason behind the short life expectancy in the United States. As of 2015, the United States ranked 31st in the world for life expectancy, despite being one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Experts wonder if our unhealthy lifestyle may be in part to blame for this shortfall.
To learn more, researchers analyzed data from two U.S. studies that have tracked the health of U.S health professionals since the 1980s. These studies, known as the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, continually surveyed participants about their health and used national death records to track mortality.
Together, the recent analysis included 78,865 women and 44,354 men, who were followed for a median of 27–34 years. Women were 30–55 years of age at the start of the study, while men were between the ages of 40–75.
By the end of the study, one-third of participants had died. After analysis, researchers found that mortality risk varied significantly by participants’ lifestyle.
After looking at five ideal lifestyle factors, including never smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising at least 30 minutes a day, eating healthy and consuming moderate alcohol, researchers found that those meeting all five criteria had 74% lower risk of death than those with zero of these factors. Those meeting all five criteria also had 82% lower risk of death from heart disease and 65% lower risk of cancer-related deaths than those meeting none.
When applied to the U.S. population, researchers calculated that unhealthy lifestyle accounts for 60% of all deaths. Individuals with a healthy lifestyle were projected to live 12–14 years longer than those with none of the five healthy lifestyle factors.
In fact, researchers projected that at age 50, women with a healthy lifestyle were expected to live until age 93, while those with an unhealthy lifestyle had a life expectancy of 79. Similarly, men with a healthy lifestyle had a life expectancy of 88, compared to 76 for men with an unhealthy lifestyle.
What findings show, according to authors, is the importance of a healthy lifestyle. Adopting a healthy lifestyle could prolong life expectancy by up to 14 years, which is an enormous benefit for relatively simple changes.
In this study, these changes included not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and healthy diet, staying active and consuming moderate levels of alcohol (up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men). While adopting all five changes is ideal for health, studies show that achieving at least one or a few of these factors can be highly beneficial for health.
Findings also suggest that an unhealthy lifestyle is largely to blame for the considerably low U.S. life expectancy. On a broader level, improving lifestyle among Americans could help close the life-expectancy gap between the U.S. and other countries.