5 simple habits from Harvard scientists that will add 10 years to your life

Just five lifestyle habits can extend your life by a decade without risk of dying from the leading illnesses.

This finding comes from a new study conducted by researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and published last year in the British medical journal The BMJ.

The 5 healthy habits

The list of healthy habits includes:

  1. sticking with a low-cholesterol diet
  2. having regular exercise
  3. maintaining a healthy body-mass index
  4. capping alcohol consumption
  5. not smoking (this reduces the chance of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer — the latter two are, by far, the leading causes of death in the U.S.)

“Given the high cost of chronic-disease treatment, public policies to promote a healthy lifestyle by improving food and physical environments would help to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life,” said senior author Dr. Frank Hu, a professor in Harvard’s department of nutrition.

A formula for sustained health

Using data from long-running Harvard studies on nutrition’s effects on health, researchers looked at the health habits of 73,196 women in the U.S. over 34 years and 38,366 men in the U.S. over 28 years. They looked specifically at whether subjects ate low-cholesterol food, did at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity, maintained a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9, abstained from heavy alcohol use (defined as one serving per day for women and up to two for men), and abstained from smoking entirely.

The result? Female participants at age 50 who adhered to at least four of the five healthy habits lived an average of 34 more years without being diagnosed with diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, or cancer. Men who did the same at age 50 lived roughly 31 years longer without being diagnosed with a chronic disease.

Those who practiced none of Harvard’s health lifestyle habits lived a little over 20 years longer before being diagnosed with a serious illness. Obesity and smoking were associated with the worst outcomes.

The 2020 study was a follow-up to and reaffirmed similar results from a 2018 Harvard study that found subjects who lived healthy lifestyles could reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by 82% and cancer by 65%. The 2018 study concluded that those subjects who had followed all five lifestyle habits were 74% less likely to die during the study period.