8 Healthy Habits for a Longer Life

People who adopt eight healthy lifestyle habits before turning 40 may live substantially longer than those with few or none of these habits.

The study presented at the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) annual meeting used data from 719,147 adults aged 40 to 99 enrolled in the Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program, a large study of American veterans. During the follow-up, 33,375 deaths occurred.

The study suggests that adopting all the following habits may significantly improve lifespan:

  • Being physically active
  • Being free from opioid addiction
  • Not smoking
  • Managing stress
  • Having a good diet
  • Not regularly binge drinking
  • Having good sleep hygiene
  • Having positive social relationships

The findings indicate that developing all eight habits before age 40 would prolong life by 24 years for men and 21 years for women on average compared to those with none of these habits.

Low physical activity, opioid use, and smoking may significantly impact lifespan, as these factors were associated with a 30% to 45% increase in the risk of death. Stress, binge drinking, poor diet, and poor sleep hygiene were each associated with around a 20% higher death risk. A lack of positive social relationships was linked to a 5% elevated risk of death.

"We were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three, or all eight lifestyle factors," says Xuan-Mai T. Nguyen, a health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs and rising fourth-year medical student at Carle Illinois College of Medicine. "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."

Although the study does not definitively prove that these habits prolong life, its findings align with a growing body of research emphasizing the role of lifestyle factors in chronic diseases and early death.

Regular exercise, for example, is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. A large 2006 study in China randomized participants with abnormal glucose tolerance to one of four groups. Among those assigned to exercise, 41.1% developed type 2 diabetes, compared to 67.7% in the control group, 43.8% in the diet group, and 46% in the diet plus exercise group.

A 2022 study suggests that a healthy diet that includes more legumes, whole grains, and nuts may prolong life by 13 years, whereas Mediterranean and low-fat diets are thought to be most effective in improving heart health and preventing early death.

Nguyen says: "Lifestyle medicine is aimed at treating the underlying causes of chronic diseases rather than their symptoms. It provides a potential avenue for altering the course of ever-increasing health care costs resulting from prescription medicine and surgical procedures."

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