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How Diet, Exercise, and Weight Management Can Add a Decade to Your Life

  • Researchers say healthy lifestyle habits can add as much as a decade to your life span.
  • The researchers identified five lifestyle factors as important, including diet, exercise, and maintaining a moderate body weight.
  • Experts say the two most important things to avoid are smoking and developing overweight or obesity.

We’d all like to live a long time in good health.

Now a recently published study has concluded there are lifestyle factors that can increase your odds of reaching an older age without chronic health issues.

There’s been plenty of research on lifestyle choices, such as smoking, physical activity, drinking habits, weight management, and diet, that affect our overall life span and likelihood of experiencing chronic diseases.

However, few studies have looked at how a combination of these factors relate to a long life free of disease.

“We wanted to see whether following a healthy diet and exercise can prolong life, not just life expectancy but life expectancy free of chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes,” Dr. Frank Hu, MPH, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts and lead study author, told Healthline.

“Because we’re not just looking at life span but also health span, meaning that there are increased years of life free of chronic disease,” he said.

5 crucial health factors

Researchers examined data from roughly 73,000 registered female nurses in the United States from the Nurses’ Health Study and from almost 40,000 male health professionals in the United States from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

The study participants didn’t have cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes when they were enrolled.

Study participants were routinely assessed for new diagnoses and deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes for more than 20 years. Researchers adjusted for age, ethnic background, family medical history, and other considerations.

The low-risk lifestyle factors used to calculate a healthy lifestyle score included:

  • never smoking
  • at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity
  • moderate alcohol intake
  • maintaining a moderate weight (defined as a BMI less than 25)
  • a good quality diet

Adding these five factors together gave a final low-risk lifestyle score ranging from 0 to 5. A higher score indicated a healthier lifestyle.

“Your healthcare provider can help with risk scores that can estimate your risk for death for certain conditions, and evidence-based lifestyle modifications and treatments that can improve conditions,” said Dr. Katrina Miller Parrish, the chief quality and information executive at L.A. Care Health Plan.

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