Updated: Jun 23, 2019
Adopting specific healthy lifestyles has been shown to increase life expectancy up to a dozen years or more.
Americans are spending more on health care than other affluent nations. Despite this, we are slipping behind in life expectancy. A new study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that specific lifestyle behaviors can have a powerful impact on extending life in the US.
According to Health System Tracker:
"Back in 1980, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. was similar to that of comparable countries. However, since then, the U.S. has gained just 4.9 years of life expectancy, while comparable countries have gained 7.7 years on average."
In 2015 the World Health Organization estimated that the US ranked 31st in the world in life expectancy from birth. Some populations, notably the white working class, in the US are actually decreasing in life span. This dismal record is happening while the US ranks 1st globally in per capita expenditures on health care.
The high rates of mortality in the US population was the motivation for the Harvard study published in 2018 in the scientific journal, Circulation. The study was the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of lifestyle choices on longevity. The results were striking.
The study defined 5 low-risk lifestyle behaviors that included
* A healthy diet
* Possessing a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m
* At least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day
* Light alcohol consumption
* No smoking
According to Science Daily :
"Harvard Chan researchers and colleagues looked at 34 years of data from 78,865 women and 27 years of data from 44,354 men participating in, respectively, the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study."
The findings indicated that the 5 lifestyle factors, if adhered to, had a powerful impact on mortality.
If the study subjects adhered to all five behaviors they experienced a 74% lower risk of death from any cause as compared to the study subjects who didn't adhere to any of the 5 lifestyle behaviors.
In the subjects who did not adhere to any of the low-risk behaviors, they suffered from a 65% higher death rate from cancer and a 82% higher death rate from cardiovascular disease.
Again Science Daily:
"...for those who adopted all five low-risk factors, life expectancy at age 50 was projected to be 43.1 years for women and 37.6 years for men. In other words, women who maintained all five healthy habits gained, on average, 14 years of life, and men who did so gained 12 years, compared with those who didn't maintain healthy habits."
The gains of 14 and 12 years of extended lifespan represent a 48% and a 49% increase over those who did not adhere to the healthy behaviors.
If the subject adhered to all 5 low-risk lifestyle factors they reaped the most results in terms of longevity. But adhering to any of the factors decreased the risk of dying compared to those who adhered to none of the targeted behaviors.
These results underscore the need for individuals to choose behaviors that have direct impact on health and longevity. Adopting the five healthy behaviors listed above promotes long-lasting, real-life health results. The study demonstrates that lifestyle choices can have a tremendous impact on individual lives for the better by substantially reducing premature mortality. In this way, the longevity gap between the US and other developed countries can be significantly narrowed.
The Life Extension Foundation put it this way:
"This large study...provides compelling evidence that Americans exert a tremendous degree of control over their healthy longevity. It also reveals why preventative healthcare should be a top priority for health policymakers."
The conclusion from the research is that we can make a difference in the length and quality of our lives. Deciding to adopt the 5 healthy behaviors described above can make a tremendous difference in our lives and the lives of our families.
The key is in making the decision. The research is there and the resources are available. Eating right, exercising, keeping a good body mass index, not smoking, and drinking sparingly are practical steps you can take to combat degenerative disease and prolong a healthy life.
If you wish, you can add a few other lifestyle behaviors that will increase your chances of living to a ripe old age. You might want to make sure you stay hydrated, foster close relationships, pay attention to your dental health, manage your stress, get regular medical checkups, wear a seatbelt and pursue a spiritual path.
Hopefully, and in light of the present research, the American medical establishment will make efforts to change its priorities from drug therapy and disease treatment to preventative medicine and healthy living. If this happens, our individual efforts to not die too soon will be augmented with the availability of many more resources.
It also behooves us to make sure, through enlightened public health policy, that all Americans have at their disposal the medical resources, jobs, access to healthy food, and proper education necessary to assure the possibility of living long and healthy lives.