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Five Actions to Live a Longer Life

What will these habits do to you?
What will these habits do to you?

Americans live shorter lives than the residents of almost all other high-income countries. According to the World Health Organization, people from 30 countries live longer than us.

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wanted to know why. So they went through the data from large, long-term health and wellness studies and figured out precisely what things were killing us. They looked at the records of over 123,000 people and followed them for up to 34 years. Throughout the study, they recorded 42,167 deaths.

What they found was that our actions have huge consequences. Starting at age 50, they measured life expectancy for people who did nothing for their health. They used the phrase, “adopted zero low-risk lifestyle factors.” Men could expect to live 25.5 more years and women 29 years.

However, when people DID take actions to live healthier, the increase was dramatic. Men were living an average of 37.6 years and women 43.1 years. That's an increase of 12 years for men and 14 years for women. The differences came for people who took five specific actions. Here they are, secrets to living a longer life, and just how much time these actions might give you.

#1 Don't smoke. Smoking is a risk factor for some cancers and heart disease. Eliminating the habit can add up to 10 years on your life. Interestingly that gap has been narrowed in recent years because of advances in medications and surgical options. But even when someone has access to the best medical care in the world, stopping smoking can still add at least 5 years to a persons life.

#2 Exercise. This can lower your risk of cancer and even reverse some effects of heart disease. The benefits of exercise vary based on your activity levels. Up to a point, the more you do, the longer you'll live. Briskly walking for 75 minutes a week will give you 1.8 more years of life. Push yourself for 450 minutes a week and you gain 4.5 years. The results only start to become detrimental for people running more than 20 miles a week.

#3 Maintain a healthy weight. Up to 30% of all cancers can be directly linked to obesity. It's also a risk factor for heart disease and strokes. Researchers measured something called Body Mass Index or BMI. The healthy range for BMI is considered between 18.5 and 24.9. Below 18.5 and you might be dealing with anorexia or wasting. Above 30 is technically classified as obese. People in the normal range were found to live an average of 7.2 years more than those who did not exercise and were obese.

#4 Eat healthy. This is one of the most difficult ones for people to understand. The simplest way to look at it is like this. Choose whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, nuts and grains. The more processed a food is, the less likely that food is healthy. Limit added fats, salts and sugars. The ideal average calorie range is about 1,800 a day.

#5 Don't drink alcohol. The more someone drinks, the more their cancer risk increases. Contrary to popular belief, there is no healthy level of alcohol you can consume. Researchers have found that just one alcoholic drink a day can shorten lifespan by as much as two years. You don't have to stop completely, but the more you cut back, the longer you may live.

Those five actions, when combined, dramatically extended lives. But there was something more. It isn't just about living longer. It's about living a healthy life, longer. Nobody wants to spend their last years sick and feeble. By taking these actions, you can remain active and aware for a decade or more longer than the average person.

Don't try and do everything at once. Choose one action to concentrate on for the next three months. Only after it's become a habit, should you move on to the next item.

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