Starting at age 50 instead?
No problem, you could prolong your life by up to 21 years, the study found.
Age 60? You’ll still gain nearly 18 years if you adopt all eight healthy habits.
“There’s a 20-year period in which you can make these changes, whether you do it gradually or all at once,“ said lead study author Xuan-Mai Nguyen, a health science specialist for the Million Veteran Program at the VA Boston Healthcare System.
“We also did an analysis to see if we eliminated people with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke, cancer, and the like, does it change the outcome? And it really didn’t,” she said. “So, if you start off with chronic diseases, making changes does still help.”
The study looked at the lifestyle behaviors of nearly 720,000 military veterans between the ages of 40 and 99. All were part of the Million Veteran Program, a longitudinal study designed to investigate the health and wellness of Americans.
Adding just one healthy behavior to a person’s life at age 40 provided an additional 4.5 years of life, Nguyen said.
Adding a second led to 7.2 more years, while adopting three habits prolonged life by 8.6 years. As the number of additional lifestyle changes climbed, so did the benefits, adding up to nearly a quarter century of extra life.
What are these magical healthy habits?
No. 1: Exercise produces a 46% decrease in the risk of death from any cause compared to those who did not exercise.
I exercise every day unless I’m ill or traveling. And often, I exercise while I’m sick and while I’m traveling.
No. 2: Not becoming addicted to opioids was the second most important contributor to a longer life, reducing the risk of early death by 38%.
No addiction, thank goodness.
No. 3: Never using tobacco reduced the risk of death by 29%. If you smoked at some point but quit, that still confers significant health benefits but does not yield an increased life span.
Never smoked once in my life. Honestly, why does anyone start these days? It’s expensive, stigmatizing, isolating, and reduces your number of possible romantic partners.
No. 4: Managing stress was next, reducing early death by 22%.
I rarely feel stress, but when I do, I manage it infuriatingly well, at least according to those who know me best.
Also, as a side note, exercise, meditation, music, laughter, and physical contact with human beings and pets can reduce stress significantly, so before you accept that stress is a permanent part of your life, take action.
No. 5: Eating a plant-based diet would raise your chances of living a longer life by 21%. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a vegetarian or vegan. Following a healthy plant-based plan, such as the Mediterranean diet full of whole grains and leafy green vegetables, was vital.
I do not eat a plant-based diet, nor could I imagine doing so unless ice cream, cheeseburgers, and eggs start growing on trees. But who knows?
No. 6: Avoiding binge drinking — which is having more than four alcoholic beverages a day — was another healthy lifestyle habit, reducing the risk of death by 19%.
I do not drink alcohol except for champagne toasts at weddings and similar circumstances. I have not consumed alcohol with any regularity for almost 30 years. Alcohol has no appeal to me. It does not taste good, and I have never needed help lowering my inhibitions or relaxing.
No. 7: Getting a good night’s sleep — defined as at least seven to nine hours a night with no insomnia — reduced early death from any cause by 18%. Dozens of studies have linked poor sleep to all sorts of poor health outcomes, including premature mortality.
I sleep about six hours every night – less than the study suggests – but I sleep exceedingly well, never suffer from insomnia, and always feel refreshed when I awake, almost always without an alarm. I know the amount of sleep I get is lower than recommended, but I sleep exceptionally well.
No. 8: Being surrounded by positive social relationships helped longevity by 5%,
I am constantly seeking opportunities to spend time with family and friends while also expanding the size of my friendship pool. Between my teaching career, my businesses, my performing career, golfing, and more, I spend enormous amounts of time with a wide variety of friends and family and constantly add people to my friendship pool.
Not bad. Seven of the eight for me without any effort, and I’ve been doing all of them for at least two decades.
I’m clearly going to live forever.
Of course, all the lifestyle choices won’t make a difference if I go through another windshield, get stung by another bee, get hit by another car again, or experience any of the multitude of other bizarre, hazardous, and unprecedented accidents that have happened to me.
At least 21 trips to the emergency room and at least eight trips by ambulance.
Good living, it turns out, will only get you so far if the universe is hell-bent on punching you in the face.
But I’m still standing and glad you are, too.