Adopting eight lifestyle changes, such as eating well and getting a good night’s sleep, could add more than 20 years to your life, research suggests.
The study found that people were likely to live longer when they made only minor changes, even if they delayed embracing the healthier habits until middle age.
“Our research findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for both public health and personal wellness,” said Xuan-Mai T Nguyen, a health science specialist involved in the work at the US Department of Veteran Affairs.
“The earlier the better, but even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it still is beneficial,” she added.
The research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston, drew on data from questionnaires and medical records collected between 2011 and 2019. The records covered more than 700,000 US veterans aged from 40 to 99 who were enrolled in the Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program.
Nguyen and her colleagues analysed the data to identify which lifestyle factors were associated with a longer lifespan. Medical records collected for the project showed that 33,375 participants died during the study period.
The team added that, when combined, the lifestyle factors could have a substantial impact on life expectancy, increasing a person’s lifespan by decades.
“Men and women who adopted eight therapeutic lifestyle factors could gain 23.7 or 22.6 years of life expectancy, respectively, at age 40 years compared to those with no adopted lifestyle factors,” the authors write.
Being physically inactive, using opioid drugs, and smoking had the strongest associations with heading to an early grave: participants with these lifestyle factors had a 30%-45% higher risk of death over the study period, the researchers found. By contrast, stress, binge-drinking, poor sleep hygiene and poor diet were associated with about a 20% higher risk of death in the period studied.
The observational nature of the research, however, means the work cannot prove a causal link between the factors identified and differences in lifespan.
Prof Naveed Sattar, an expert in cardiovascular and metabolic health at the University of Glasgow, who was not involved in the study, cautioned that the research did not involve a trial, and so a variety of factors could be muddying the water.
Nevertheless, Sattar still welcomed the work. He said: “These data add to the notion that how we live our lives matters as much if not more than the medicines we receive to prevent or manage numerous chronic diseases. This means we cannot simply medicate ourselves to good health and lifestyle always matters. Therefore, if people can be helped by the NHS to develop better lifestyle habits, this may lower chronic disease costs and help people live more enjoyable and productive lives.”
Get a good night’s sleep.
Be physically active.
Avoid binge drinking.
Be free from opioid addiction.
Have positive social relationships.