Five healthy habits net more healthy years

Are healthy habits worth cultivating? A recent study suggests healthy habits may help people tack on years of life and sidestep serious illnesses, such as diabetes and cancer. After all, if you’re going to gain an extra decade of life on this earth, you want to enjoy it!

What did this research focus on?

Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at data from more than 73,000 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) who were followed for 34 years, and more than 38,000 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) who were followed for 28 years.

In a previous study using the same data, these researchers had found that five low-risk lifestyle habits are critical for a longer life expectancy. The more of these habits people had, the longer they lived. The habits were:

  • a healthy diet, which was calculated and rated based on reports of regularly eating healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and avoiding less healthy or unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and excess sodium
  • a healthy physical activity level, measured as at least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous activity, like brisk walking
  • a healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index (BMI), which is between 18.5 and 24.9
  • never smoking, because there is no healthy amount of smoking
  • low-risk alcohol intake, measured as between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. Generally, one drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Even if they had only one of these habits, participants lived two years longer than if they had none. And if by age 50 they regularly practiced all five, women lived an extra 14 years and men lived an extra 12. That’s over a decade of extra life!

Are those extra years healthy?

In this new study, researchers wanted to know if those extra years were also healthy years. Participants were asked in follow-up questionnaires if they had developed medical problems like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (heart disease and strokes), or cancer. The answers were verified by a review of medical records.

The study found that having at least four of the five healthy habits gave people significant protection against developing any of these illnesses: on average about a decade more of life free of these diseases.

Why is that important? These chronic diseases are associated with illness, hospitalizations, and even needing nursing home care. Diabetes, for example, can lead to disabling conditions, including blindness, amputations, and kidney failure requiring dialysis. The top 10 diagnoses resulting in nursing home care include strokes, heart disease, and obesity, according to the National Association of Health Data Organizations. These conditions are strongly associated with diet and lifestyle.

Steps for a longer, healthier life

If you’re approaching middle age, you can take steps to enjoy a longer and healthier life, one with a lower chance of becoming disabled or ending up in a nursing home:

  1. Eat mostly plants, most of the time. That means fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Avoid eating fast or fried foods, sweets and sugary beverages, and red and processed meats (like cold cuts) as much as possible.
  2. Move your body every day as much as you can. Walking for 30 minutes a day (15 in the morning, 15 in the evening, maybe?) would give you the benefits these researchers found. But even as little as 10 minutes of movement per week has been shown to have health benefits.
  3. Do the best you can to get to a healthy weight. And remember, even a little bit of weight loss, just a few pounds, is associated with real, positive health outcomes, like a lower risk of diabetes in people at risk.
  4. Quit smoking — or vaping! Though this particular study looked at never having smoked, we know that there are significant health benefits to quitting at any time. It’s never too late to quit and enjoy a healthier life.
  5. If you drink any alcohol, keep the recommended limits in mind: one drink per day max for women, two drinks per day max for men.


  1. Dr. Hemen Das

    Nice information….Prevention is always far better than treating the ailments whrn it arrives..

  2. albert miller

    What is needed is Government intervention resulting in laws that prohibit the manufacture of food that does not contribute to good health.

  3. A Goldstein

    This country has unprecedented availability of healthy foods but access and affordability is not evenly distributed. Highly processed foods are over-flavored, over-processed and over-caloried and usually cheaper and faster to create a meal.

    We know what eating well means. It’s just hard to preach the good diet to those who cannot afford it.

    • Pamela

      You can ALWAYS eat healthier, even on just a bit of $…the choice is always yours to make. Apples, broccoli, and some fish is just as cheap as potato chips, soda and ice cream!

  4. Oola

    Restaurants sure don’t make it easy to put veggies, fruits, and plants in general first. Then again, they will offer what people buy. It’s discouraging. People revere the foods and amounts that get us in the worst trouble.

  5. Allen F. Browne, M.D.


    Good post!!!!

    Allen Browne

  6. Mary Dean

    I am 70 years old, female, 5’2” 123 pounds. I swim four times a week, 30 minutes. I walk daily. I eat a low fat diet combined with plant diet. I laugh daily and very grateful. It works💚

  7. Henry Smith

    There is an old saying: Eat Well, Sleep Well, Exercise Well. These things are the nucleus for a good health. Living a good lifestyle and practicing actions as mentioned above like healthy diet, half an hour of exercise and avoidance of tobacco and smoking are necessary for healthy life and you can add years definitely.

  8. Jimmy carney

    I am 75 yrs old I walk at least 30 minutes every day mix with strength training finish my work out in about one hour some time a little more love it

Commenting has been closed for this post.