Recent Blog Articles
Improving access to hearing aids
Can mindfulness change your brain?
Five lifestyle factors that can help prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease
Transient ischemic attacks: Varied symptoms, all important
5 inflammation-fighting food swaps
Is IBD an underrecognized health problem in minority groups?
Sickle cell disease in newborns and children: What families should know and do
COVID-19 vaccines for children and teens: What we do — and don’t — know
Happy trails: Take a hike, now
Sleep well — and reduce your risk of dementia and death
Harvard Health Blog
Healthy lifestyle: 5 keys to a longer life
- Author: Monique Tello, MD, MPH,
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
ad diets or straight to the fridge…
To have a better life style one
Great article and insight. Education is key when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. I am curious as to why stress management was not looked at? Numerous research studies have shown stress to be a factor in heart disease, reducing life expectancy. Also, hydration is important and often overlooked. So many factors are involved when it comes to our health.
Jen – strongly support your individual freedom perspective, and with this freedom is its connection to responsibility – of individuals, corporations, state, et al.
And I support your “with freedom comes responsibilities” perspective, Ian, Thank you!
Excellent article. But i think we can also add Yoga in the top priorities. Yoga is considered as one of the best thing that can reverse the aging effects significantly at home. There are several poses that can boost the blood circulation and provide the essential nutrition to various cells. I have found an article entitled ” 21 Yoga Poses for Anti Aging – Yoga Turns the Clock Back”
Yoga is fantastic for many reasons. Thanks, Joshua.
Thanks Frances, Yes, this is part of the healthy lifestyle generally!
Yes, There is evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners are unhealthy in many ways, and they definitely are not associated with weight loss.
Dear S, I agree that a high-quality diet and healthy lifestyle are more important than weight as a number. But if a person is suffering from a disease that can respond well to weight loss, then it only makes sense to include healthy weight loss as part of the plan. This can be done safely, without fad diets.
Bob, that was well-stated. Yes, it’s hard to look at the numbers, but even harder to look at my patient with multiple serious chronic illnesses and disability due to poor diet and lifestyle, which could have been prevented. Time for us all to wisen up.
Sorry, Jen, for wanting to help you to live the healthiest, happiest, longest life you possibly can! Promoting the healthiest options for people is what doctoring is all about.
Carolyn, agree completely, a plant-based Mediterranean style diet is the best diet for health. That includes some whole grains, ideally in intact form (such as farro, quinoa, and brown rice), some healthy proteins and fats (legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, chicken), and mostly fruits and veggies. Refined grains, like white flour and sugar, and everything made from them (bread, pastas, backed goods, cereals, et cetera) are the real culprit.
Hi, No. Our bodies handle intact whole grains very differently from processed whole grains, and handles those very differently than refined grains. Check out the HSPH Nutrition Source website on this: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/whole-grains/
Yes, regular intake of one drink or fewer per day of alcohol can increase the risk of cancer in certain individuals, slightly.
The summary statement from one of the main research summaries on this is:
“Clearly, the greatest cancer risks are concentrated in the heavy and moderate drinker categories. Nevertheless, some cancer risk persists even at low levels of consumption. A meta-analysis that focused solely on cancer risks associated with drinking one drink or fewer per day observed that this level of alcohol consumption was still associated with some elevated risk for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, oropharyngeal cancer, and breast cancer, but no discernable associations were seen for cancers of the colorectum, larynx, and liver. On the basis of the lesser overall cancer risk at the lower end of the dose-response continuum, the World Cancer Research Fund/AICR made the following recommendation: ‘If alcoholic drinks are consumed, limit consumption to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.'” You can check out the entire article here: http://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2017.76.1155
Good for you! It may be a combination of factors.
You are welcome!
Thanks Peter, Yes, prevention is key, and I think the tide is turning on that. I will tell you that as a physician, I recommend to people that they get their fiber from a health diet rather than supplements, preferably.
Thanks so much and agree with all of your suggestions.
Hi Walter, Yes, there are no less than a gazillion research studies linking tobacco and cancer with fairly accurate quantification of the risks. Check out the Cancer.gov website (part of the National Institutes of Health) link below for some referenced information:
Hi Carl, I can’t speak for these industries, but I can imagine which type of innovation would be ore highly profitable over the long term.
Thanks Jim, I agree, prescribers really had no financial incentive. There was a huge push to prescribe these based on erroneous ideas about the risks and benefits, many of which were promoted by the pharmaceuticals industry, who had very clear (and large) financial incentives.
Hi Tom, Yes, as reported: “Study investigators also calculated life expectancy by how many of these five healthy habits people had. Just one healthy habit (and it didn’t matter which one) … just one… extended life expectancy by two years in men and women. Not surprisingly, the more healthy habits people had, the longer their lifespan.” All of these results were statistically significant. There is a link to the actual study at the bottom of the post, it’s very clearly written, take a look.
Thanks NutritionWHIT, appreciated! MT
Thanks, Peter, really appreciated! MT
I agree with you that there is big industry interest in maintaining the current unhealthy Western lifestyle, Azure. I also agree that certain pharmaceuticals manufacturers profited off of the popularity of opioids. Not sure how you can state the same of the prescribers, as I can’t see how there could have been a direct (or even indirect) financial incentive.
I agree with David (9th July comment) with regard to diet. Whole grains can indeed have the effect of spiking blood sugar (whole grain bread as just one example) and creating gut inflammation, and therefore low-grade, sub-acute inflammation in general. This is the biggest contributor to chronic disease that we are facing, long-term inflammation. The standard food pyramid is, in my opinion, all wrong. I believe we should eat a more Mediterranean diet, and minimise the grain-based carbohydrates, and the sugars. Then we are considerably further down the track towards a healthy diet that promotes longevity. Of course, all of the other factors mentioned are important as well, but what we put into our mouths is probably the most important, given the skyrocketing rates of obesity first world countries are facing, and now even asian countries as well, who are well and truly catching up.
Very clear informative article. My only problem is her support a broad scale public policy that would tell people what to eat. We are not a communist country. The United States is a republic – a constitutional republic where people believe that they can govern themselves. The notion that government should tell me what to eat is the absolute tyranny and tells me that this doctor needs to have a lesson in civics as well the pitfalls of scientism. I suspect she is thinking in terms of cost of care which is a utilitarian Marxist approach to human life. I don’t know what happened to this generation that they are so ignorant when it comes to Liberty and freedom versus government encroachment and parenting.
A very good read. I think you hit the nail on the head and perhaps a few people’s fingers with your comments. USA has about 5% of the world’s population yet issues about 50% of all medical prescriptions worldwide. Common sense would tell us that the more people are well the less the need for public health, medicines and health facilities. An inverse relationship exists which implies an impressive health bill an indication of sickness not wellness. Public health can only be realistically addressed by governments acting in the public’s interest. The amount of money paid to political parties by lobbyists is very tiny compared to the money paid by the health budget and tax payer. Corporations need a cultural shift and to be aware of the growing dissatisfaction by health advocates trying to protect the general public.
Not everyone can be in the “healthy body weight”. each person has their own set point of weight. Some research shows that what is called “overwieght” BMI is also OK. For an Obese Nation like the US, setting the “normal” BMI as a goal is too much, and sends many people to dangerous fad diets or straight to the fridge…
To have a better life style one should not focus on results like BMI, but on the changes and the way to get them.
Another factor often overlooked is the rampant use of artificial flavours synthesised in laboratories and used to fool people with respect to the natural flavours derived from fresh fruits and vegetables.
This fools the human olfactory system to devour more and probably is at the heart of addictive eating patterns of unhealthy fast food.
To which i would add Good Night’s Sleep and Being Useful everyday
What role does nationality or culture play? For example Norwegian ancestry versus Irish ancestry or Japanese ancestry
I see you tout “whole grains” over “processed foods” – don’t these have very similar blood sugar GI impacts and thus spike blood sugar and inflammation?
Under “moderate alcohol intake” it doesn’t say if zero is bad or good (it’s outside the stated range).
What about the the recent research that shows that even moderate drinking – such as one glass of beer or wine per day – increases the risk of cancer?
Is this research significant?
Newsflash from an 88 year old female who looks 74 ! No one
believes my age, as I am mentally alert as well as physically well
For my age. I have no idea why I am so fortunate. Could it be
Genetic? Or life style ? Or perhaps nutrition? I even drive at night !
Thanks so much for this article.
I got a degree in Health Education in 1978 because it seemed obvious to me that “soon” lots of money and health resources would go toward preventive health care. 40 years later, that still hasn’t happened, as the article points out!
I feel good that during my life, I have been able to help with preventive health care in a different way. I was able to help sell millions of bottles of dietary fiber supplements, which do have a significant preventive health benefit for people who use them.
Yes, spend money on prevention to reduce money on treatment in the first place. And, can you legislate portion sizes? It’s no secret that restaurants in America pride themselves on huge portions of food and people scratch their heads at the insane obesity levels in America. The American thinking of bigger and more is always better is just sending people to an earlier grave and only big business seems to care more about protecting it’s right vs politicians caring about the health of a nation.
It’s not just the US though, obviously. It’s a worldwide problem in many countries. America just seems to be the front-runner. Well, that’s not something to be proud of as ‘title holder’.
Very valuable . Is there a study of the affects of smoking based on the number of years an individual had smoked and the number of years that the individual had not smoked?
Does that mean drug companies are interested in finding cures or only therapies. Which is more profitable? I will let you answer that question!
Most of the opioids come into the U.S. and are made in and shipped from China. They are ordered via the internet. The opiod crisis isn’t just from physicians prescribing these drugs.
The article reports the lifespan difference between those with all 5 habits versus none (14 years for women and 12 years for men). This sounds impressive, but what’s the difference between those at the middle (3 good habits) versus those with all 5? How many years and is it even statistically significant? Articles like these should focus on not only the most dramatic headline number, but also the more realistic gains achievable by average people making smaller improvements in their lifestyles.
Thank you for putting together this blog post. Very clear and concise information. Detailed statistics ect. And yet not to long lol. Cheers,
I wondered upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.
You forgot the auto industry, pesticide manufacturers, plastics manufacturers, BigPharma, and who knows what other industry “sectors” that benefit from the mainstream US “lifestyle” including addiction to a variety of substances. Greedy physicians bear some of the responsibility as well, they’re the ones who have overprescribed opoids.
Commenting has been closed for this post.