Five Lifestyle Factors that Increase Lifespan

Americans live significantly shorter lives then residents of other countries with similar income and development.  In fact, America ranks 31st in life expectancy among all other high income countries.  In a study recently published in Circulation, researchers wanted to estimate the impact that positive lifestyle factors could have on American lifespan.  This study tracked close to 123,000 Americans for 34 years. They found that those individuals who practiced all 5 of these healthy habits were able to prolong life expectancy by 14.0 years (women) and 12.2 years (men) compared with individuals who adopted zero low-risk lifestyle factors.

 Low risk lifestyles were identified as:

1 Never smoking

2. BMI between 18.5 & 24.9

3. 30 minutes of moderate physical activity each day

4. Moderate alcohol intake (1 drink per day for women, 2 drinks per day for men)

5.High quality diet

The largest extension in lifespan was found when all five factors were practiced, but researchers also looked at each factor individually.  Each habit alone lengthened lifespan to an extent and lifespan increased with each additional factor. The more of these components we achieve, the longer we live.

Let’s take a closer look at the factors that made the biggest impact. Never having smoked made the largest difference, but the good news is that smokers that quit also increased lifespan substantially.  Charts indicated that a former smoker could potentially gain 7 years of life by quitting. Both smokers and nonsmokers gained life expectancy with each additional factor.

It was found that diet quality alone could add 4-5 years to your life. “High quality diets” were defined as diets high in vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fats and low in red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium. This mostly aligns with the Mediterranean diet which is associated with a lower risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and neurodegenerative disease. BMI was associated with a loss of 2-5 years for those in the 30+ range.  The Mediterranean diet can be a delicious and healthy way to eat.

Key Components of the Mediterranean Diet:

Eat primarily plant based foods. Eat a variety of veggies, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes.  Aim for 7+ servings of vegetables and fruits over the day. Switch from fully processed grains to whole grains.

Replace butter with healthy fats like olive oil.

Use herbs and spices to flavor food rather than salt.

Avoid added sugars like sugar sweetened drinks.

Limit red meat to more than a few times per month.

Eat fish and poultry a few times per week.

Eat a handful of nuts each day.

The Mediterranean diet typically includes a small amount of red wine (no more than 5 oz per day). A small amount of red wine has been shown to have heart protective effects, but excessive intake decreases longevity.  If you don’t drink alcohol, no need to start. A half cup of purple grape juice most likely offers the same benefit.

If you need help planning a Mediterranean meal plan, contact me for a personalized consult.