Once every few months, the evening news pauses its sequence of bad news, bad news, and more bad news to feature a spirited man or woman who is celebrating their 100th birthday. You see them blowing out their candles, holding their great-great grandson, and enjoying cake with their family. Without fail, the reporter holds the mic in their direction and asks, “So what’s your secret to living this long?”
The answers from these victors may vary widely, from “eat your vegetables” to “go to the beach.” As fascinating (and often hilarious) as those answers are, researchers have tried to peg down a more, well, scientific answer.
One 2018 study was able to do just that. The study, published in the journal Circulation, tracked the health of 120,000 adults for a span of 34 years while evaluating five specific lifestyle factors. The thought-provoking results revealed some potentially life-saving tips about how to prevent premature death.
Which Habits Are Linked to a Longer Life?
To begin the study, the researchers defined five critical lifestyle factors they believe were associated with improved health and longer lifespan. Researchers then assigned a “total lifestyle score” on a scale of 0-5 based on the participants’ reported lifestyle habits.
After studying 34 years of data, the researchers compared the lifestyle scores with the reported mortalities to see how much certain lifestyle factors could prevent premature death. Here are the lifestyle factors that led to a longer life, according to the study:
Never smoking: No amount of smoking is safe for the body. It’s not just lung cancer: Cigarette smoking can damage multiple parts of the body and cause premature death.
A body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9: Although BMI is not a perfect indicator of health, there is a correlation between prevalence of chronic diseases and weight (either too high or too low). Find out how your body benefits by losing just 10 pounds of belly fat.
At least 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity: Cardio and strength training may help manage blood sugar and weight, according to the American Diabetes Association. Being physically active can help reduce your risk of dozens of chronic disease.
Moderate alcohol intake: Binge-drinking alcohol is frequently cited as a risk factor for multiple conditions, including breast cancer, hypertension, and stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
Eating a high-quality diet: The AHA recommends fiber-rich foods like whole grains, beans, veggies, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Avoiding empty-calorie foods like sugar-sweetened beverages and highly processed foods, is also an important factor.
The results were pretty staggering: People who followed none of the healthy lifestyle factors comprised 51 percent of deaths by cancer and 71 percent of deaths by heart disease during the study. The more healthy lifestyle factors the participants followed, the longer they lived.
What Are the Average Life Expectancies from the Study?
After factoring deaths from cancer, heart disease, and other causes over the course of the 34 years, the researchers compared the life expectancies among the groups, and then made projections.
Women at age 50 who followed none of the positive lifestyle factors were estimated to live another 29 years.
Women at age 50 who followed all five positive lifestyle factors were estimated to live another 43.1 years.
Men at age 50 who followed none of the positive lifestyle factors were estimated to live another 25.5 years.
Men at age 50 who followed all five positive lifestyle factors were estimated to live another 37.6 years.
On average, women who followed the five healthy habits are expected to live 14 years longer than those who followed none of them, according to the study. For men, the difference was 12.2 years.
The takeaway: Of course not all health issues are preventable, but you hold a lot of power over your own health. Quitting smoking, managing weight, staying active, drinking in moderation, and eating a healthy diet might just be the simple secrets to get your 100th birthday party on the news one day.