Everyone wants to live forever — but too few of us are doing anything about it. In fact, we hold the very power in our hands to significantly extend our life expectancy.
A study that tracked 20,000 people for a decade yielded some incontrovertible links between lifestyle and life expectancy. People who didn't smoke, exercised regularly, drank low to moderate amounts of alcohol and consumed high quantities of fruit and vegetables lived up to 14 years longer than those who smoked, binge-drank, ate unhealthily and led sedentary lifestyles.1
There's no denying which side we'd all like to fall into. The question is, what can we do about it?
People who smoke 20 cigarettes a day can end up shaving up to 10 years off their lifespans. If you don't currently smoke, don't start. Ask any smoker and they'll tell you what an uphill struggle it is to quit nicotine addiction.2
If you're currently a smoker, hope is not lost. When you do quit, your body starts to recover from the ravages of your smoking habit right away. With professional support from a doctor or counselor, personal support from your family and friends, and a little aid from nicotine gum and patches, cigarette addiction can be conquered.3
Jump to it
If you want to live longer, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity a week.4 You don't have to sign up for an expensive gym membership. Just make some adjustments to your lifestyle by walking to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and plan outdoor activities for the whole family.5 Every little bit of exercise adds up to a longer life!
How much is too much?
There is a lot of conflicting information out there about alcohol consumption. For every report that proclaims alcohol as the ultimate scourge of society, there's another claiming that a bottle of red wine a day keeps you fighting fit. The truth is somewhere in between. As always, moderation is the key.
A review of studies in 2006 found that that light alcohol intake (half a unit of alcohol per day) was associated with the lowest rate of death.6 But heavy alcohol intake (defined as 3 or more units of alcohol a day) can lead to potentially fatal ailments such as liver cirrhosis, heart disease and cancer.7 If you like your tipple, stick to moderate levels of consumption (1.5 drinks a day) and you should be fine.
A research study comprising more than 40,000 subjects discovered that consumption of at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetable daily was associated with a higher life expectancy.8 But what counts as a portion? Here are some examples.
- One banana
- One apple
- Five medium-sized grapes
- Three tablespoons of frozen carrots, peas or sweetcorn
- A cereal bowl full of lettuce leaves
- A glass (330 millilitres) of 100% fruit juice
It's worth it
No one likes to think about getting older, but living longer means starting to plan while you're still young. Make these small tweaks to your lifestyle and get more out of your time here on this Earth!
- Combined impact of health behaviours and mortality in men and women: the EPIC-Norfolk prospective population study. Khaw K-T, Wareham N, Bingham S, Welch A, Luben R and Day N. PLoS Med. 2008; 5: e12.
- The effect of smoking in midlife on health-related quality of life in old age. A 26-year prospective study. Strandberg AY, Strandberg TE, Pitkälä K, Salomaa VV, Tilvis RS and Miettinen TA. Arch Intern Med. 2008; 168: 1968-1974.
- Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years observation on male British doctors. Doll R, Peto R, Boreham J, Sutherland I. BMJ. 2004; 328: 1519-1527.
- Effects of physical activity on life expectancy with cardiovascular disease. Franco OH, de Laet D, Peeters A, Jonker J, Mackenbach J and Nusselder W. ArchIntern Med. 2005; 165: 2355-2360.
- Global recommendations on physical activity for health. World Health Organization. Visited January 2016.
- Alcohol, the Bottom Line. Harvard School of Public Health. Visited January 2016.
- Di Castelnuovo A et al. Alcohol dosing and total mortality in men and women. Arch Intern Med. 2006; 166: 2437–2445.
- Fruit and vegetable intakes, dietary antioxidant nutrients, and total mortality in Spanish adults: findings from the Spanish cohort of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC-Spain). Agudo A, Cabrera L, Amiano P, Ardanaz E, Barricarte A, Berenguer T et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007; 85: 1634-1642.