Harvard scientists say adopting these 5 habits in middle-age can add years to your life

Harvard researchers have previously outlined healthy habits for increasing an individual’s overall life expectancy, but new research shows that implementing these habits at age 50 can also reduce a person’s risk for chronic disease later in life. In a new study, researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health expanded on the 2018 study that established five habits in middle health that can boost life expectancy.

This follow-up study, which was published in BMJ, suggests that implementing these five habits into your life can increase your likelihood of enjoying extra years of overall good health.

5 habits to have in middle-age to ward off disease later in life

By now you are probably wondering what those five healthy habits are. Listed below are the five practices you should begin in middle-age to ward off chronic disease later in life:

  1. Healthy eating.
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight.
  3. Exercising regularly.
  4. Limiting alcohol consumption.
  5. Not smoking.

These habits are measured in the following ways:

  1. A “healthy diet” was determined as a high score on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index. You can get started by practicing clean eating
  2. A “healthy weight” is determined by having a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2.
  3. “Regular exercise” means that an individual exercised a minimum of 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity. 
  4. Moderate alcohol consumption means an individual consumes one or fewer servings per day for women and two or fewer servings per day for men.
  5. Not smoking means that individuals refrain from smoking in their daily lives.

“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,” says lead author Yanping Li, senior research scientist in the Department of Nutrition at the university, in a statement. “This study provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.”

How many more years of disease-free living do these habits gain you?

The researchers used data from two prior studies, which allowed them to look at data form 73,196 won over 34 years and 38,366 men over 28 years. Like many health matters, the results were different for women and men.

The women who practiced none of the five healthy habits at age 50 lived only 23.7 years free of diabetes,  cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The women who did practice either four or five of these healthy habits lived 34.4 more years free of these chronic diseases. This data suggests that there is a potential gain of nearly 11 healthy years for women who maintained these habits in middle age.

Men saw slightly less benefit from practicing these healthy habits. The men who did not practice any of these habits at age 50 could expect to live 23.5 years free of chronic disease, while men who did practice health habits lived an average of 31.1 healthier years, which is a potential gain of almost eight disease-free years.

Which of these healthy habits matter the most?

The researchers found that smoking and obesity most negatively affected long-term health outcomes. Individuals who were obese or were heavy smokers had the lowest disease-free life expectancy.

Jennifer Fabiano is an SEO reporter at Ladders.