Maintaining five healthy habits - eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking - during adulthood may add more than a decade to life expectancy, according to a new study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
This might seem startling for a country that spends more on health than any other - that is, until it becomes clear, suggest the new study authors, that most of the money goes on developing drugs and treating disease rather than preventing it. But for participants who had adopted all five habits, life expectancy at age 50 was 43 years for women and 37 years for men.
"Adopting a healthy lifestyle could substantially reduce premature mortality and prolong life expectancy in US adults", the authors write.
Despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the average American has a shorter life expectancy compared to other wealthy countries, such as Japan, Canada, and Norway.
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Study researcher Meir Stampfer, from Harvard Chan School of Public Health, and colleagues looked at the medical records and lifestyle of 123,000 individuals to find out how much longer people could live if they adhere to five healthy practices.
The research, spanning more than three decades, followed approximately 123,000 US health professionals, aged 30 and 75 at the outset.
At the same time, the findings showed that sticking to the five lifestyle changes decreased the risk of death from heart disease or stroke by 82 percent, and the likelihood of cancer-related death by 65 percent.
If a person follows those five life habits from the age of 50 onward, as opposed to not following those habits at all, the life of a person can be extended 14 additional years for women and 12.2 additional years for men.
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Researchers studied 34 years of data from nearly 79,000 women and 27 years of data from about 44,000 men who participated in the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
"This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the United States population", commented senior author Frank Hu. What are these five healthy habits?
Prof. Hu says that in the US, "adherence to healthy lifestyle habits is very low", and that public policy should do more to create "healthy food, built, and social environments to support and promote healthy diet and lifestyles".
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