Written by: American Heart Association
If you want to live longer, some simple healthy steps may help you do it.
Americans’ life expectancies are shorter compared with almost all other high-income nations.
This trend has disturbing implications for the future, according to Kelly Manger, MD, a family practitioner at Lake Health Physician Group Willowick Primary Care. “With the rise of childhood obesity, there is also concern that children and young adults today may have shorter life expectancies than their parents,” she said.
To grapple with the situation, researchers at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health examined five specific lifestyle factors linked to longevity.
Those who adopted all five had a life expectancy at age 50 of 14 years longer for women and 12 years longer for men than those who adopted none of the healthy steps, according to the 2018 study in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation. (Average life expectancy in the United States is about 78 years, according to the latest statistics.)
To improve your chances of living to an older age, employ the five healthy habits highlighted in the study and discussed by Dr. Manger.
1. Participate in regular physical activity.
The AHA recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. You can also do a combination of the two.
“Yes, of course, you can do this at the gym,” Dr. Manger said, “but it is also just as attainable by going on a brisk walk around the neighborhood with your dog.”
It’s best to spread the activity throughout the week and add in muscle-strengthening exercises such as resistance training or weight training twice a week.
2. Maintain an appropriate body weight.
Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke and premature death.
The Circulation study suggested maintaining a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9.
A health care provider can offer medical guidance, and you can estimate your BMI yourself through a reputable online calculator.
Watch your calorie intake and monitor your weight by stepping on a scale.
Many people gain a pound or two pounds a year as they age, leading to an overall weight gain that can reach 30 or 40 pounds and contribute to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, researchers have found.
“Your doctor can look at several measurements with you, including your weight, age, body composition and health history, to help determine what a healthy weight should be for you,” Dr. Manger said.
3. Choose a healthy diet.
What does a healthy diet look like? It includes nutrient-rich foods that provide the protein, minerals and vitamins you need.
Select plenty of fruits and vegetables and try to work them into every meal and snack. Other foods to emphasize in a healthy eating pattern are whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes and non-tropical vegetable oils.
Try to limit sodium, red meat, saturated fat and sugars, including sugar-sweetened beverages. Remember to drink plenty of water for hydration.
4. Don’t smoke.
The United States overall has made strides in reducing smoking, but the use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, is a rising challenge.
Smoking leads to a higher risk of dying of coronary heart disease. It increases the effects of other heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and physical inactivity.
“Not only is vaping not proven to be any safer than cigarettes,” said Dr. Manger, “in recent years vaping has also been shown to have unique negative health effects known as e-cigarette- or vaping-associated lung injury.”
Never smoking is the best option. For those who do smoke, quitting is key. Giving up smoking isn’t easy. But quitting smoking at any age can make a big difference to your future health.
5. Drink in moderation.
Consuming too much alcohol can result in higher risk for various health problems.
It can increase the level of some fats in the blood, known as triglycerides, and can lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and certain cancers. It can also increase your calorie consumption, which can increase obesity and diabetes risk.
The AHA recommends moderate alcohol consumption, which is an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces 80-proof spirits or 1 ounce 100-proof spirits.)