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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Add a Decade To Your Life With These Five Habits

A study from Harvard uncovered five habits that could help you live 10 years longer and reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s by half.

It’s possible to extend your life substantially by adopting five simple habits. Even more important, perhaps, is that these habits will give you a better shot at avoiding cancer, heart disease, dementia and more. And who doesn’t want more quality years to watch grandchildren grow into adulthood, actively participate in their community and enjoy life?

How This Man Lived Past 100

Japanese physician Shigeaki Hinohara lived a full and happy life to the age of 105. The longevity expert freely dispensed advice on what he did to stay healthy and strong for more than a century. He recommended continuing to work well past the common retirement age of 65. The good doctor maintained a five-year appointment calendar and saw patients for up to 18 hours a day, volunteering his time as he got older. 

Hinohara avoided elevators and said he took the stairs “two at a time, to get my muscles moving.” He carried his own bags, and gave an average of 150 lectures a year — standing up, “to stay strong.” He ate a modest diet: Coffee, a glass of milk and orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil were enough at breakfast. “Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat,” he said “I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.”

Perhaps his greatest secret was to stay busy contributing to his community. “It’s wonderful to live long,” Hinohara said. “Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society. Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.”

Advances in science and medicine should give us all a healthier life, and Americans can expect to live an average of about 76 years (that age is dropping due to COVID-19 deaths). But in fact, the U.S. ranks only 43rd out of 195 countries in terms of lifespan. Residents of Monaco hold the No. 1 position, with the Japanese close behind.

Five Healthy Habits

Research scientists gathered 34 years of data on 73,196 women and 28 years of data from 38,366 men to arrive at their conclusions. They found that starting the habits by your fifties led to the most extended lifespan, but following the recommendations at any time had a positive effect. The five healthy habits are:

  1. Don’t use tobacco. Smoking, vaping, chewing and dipping tobacco all had negative health effects.
  2. Drink in moderation. Limit alcohol to one glass of wine for women, and two for men daily.
  3. Exercise daily. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to hard exercise per day.
  4. Eat well. Heavy on the vegetables, light on red meat and fried food. 
  5. Stay slim. A body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25 was ideal.

“Previous studies have found that following a healthy lifestyle improves overall life expectancy and reduces risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, but few studies have looked at the effects of lifestyle factors on life expectancy free from such diseases,” said first author Yanping Li, senior research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health. “This study provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.”

Compared to those who didn’t engage in any of the healthy habits, women upped their life expectancy from 79 to 93.1 years, while men increased theirs from an average 75.5 to 87.6 years.

Steer Clear of Alzheimer’s

The recommendations for avoiding Alzheimer’s are nearly identical, with the addition of one habit and the elimination of the body mass limit (although eating well and exercising regularly should help keep BMI in check):

1. Don’t smoke.
2. Drink in moderation.
3. Exercise at least 150 minutes each week.
4. Eat a diet that supports brain health (similar to a Mediterranean diet).
5. Engage in late-life cognitive activities.

It’s important to note that it’s never too late to start one or more of the habits. Additionally, it’s okay to skip a day or two of exercise once in a while, just as you can exceed the limit on alcohol from time to time. Use the habits as guidelines, and they’ll help you extend not only the quantity of your life, but also the quality.