Recent data reveals that people in the U.S. can expect to live an average of 78.7 years. That puts Americans well behind the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) average life expectancy of 80.3 years. (The OECD includes a group of developed countries like Canada, Germany, Mexico, Japan and France.)
Luckily, a 2018 study from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found five habits that could prolong a person’s life by up to a decade or more. For the study, researchers reviewed 34 years’ worth of data from 78,000 women and 27 years’ worth from more than 44,000 men.
The results showed a correlation between healthy behaviors and cardiovascular issues: Women and men who maintained the healthiest lifestyles were 82% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 65% less likely to die from cancer when compared to those with the least healthiest lifestyles over the course of the roughly 30-year study period.
The study suggested that maintaining these five habits could add up to 10 years or more to a person’s life:1. Maintain a healthy diet
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re juggling your work, family and social commitments. It may be tempting, for example, to grab a quick bite at a fast food chain on your lunch break or order takeout during late nights at the office.
But a recent study published in the British journal The Lancet found that poor diets leads to one in five deaths. It can also lead to problems like high blood pressure and diabetes. A good diet, according to the researchers, contains minimally processed, whole foods and grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts and any natural source of protein (i.e., fish and beans).
If you’re serious about changing your eating habits, it may help to consult with a nutritionist. But for some instant inspiration, Richard Branson’s diet isn’t a bad one to follow: The Virgin Group founder eats muesli and fruit salad for breakfast every day.2. Exercise daily
A study from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that just small amounts of daily exercise can extend life expectancy by as much as 4.5 years. The main idea is to avoid inactivity, which can be a problem for those who have desk jobs. A few solutions: Get a standing desk, take walking meetings or dedicate 30 minutes of gym time before or after work.
“Physical activity has been shown to help maintain a healthy body weight, maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints, promote psychological well-being and reduce the risk of certain diseases, including some cancers, ” according to the NCI.3. Keep a healthy weight
According to the Harvard study, “weight control significantly reduced the risk of diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular risk factors and breast cancer.”
Make it a point to weigh yourself often — not in an obsessive way, of course. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that those who monitored their weight less frequently were more likely to gain weight. Start viewing the scale as tool to stay within the healthy range.4. Limit your alcohol intake
It’s hard to escape the sight of alcohol — it shows up at happy hour, conferences, social outings and so much more. To get through long days, some may even rely on alcohol as a stimulant in social settings. But there are many downsides. For starters, it can add to your waistline and increase the risk of several cancers (i.e., breast, colon, esophagus).
While it can be difficult to moderate your alcohol intake — especially if you’re the one in eight Americans who struggles with alcohol addiction — keep in mind that the U.S. government’s “Dietary Guidelines”publication defines “moderate drinking” as one drink for women per day and two for men. (Note: One alcoholic drink-equivalent is defined as containing 14 grams (0.6 fl oz) of pure alcohol.)
But avoiding alcohol altogether puts you in good company; Warren Buffett, an 88-year-old billionaire, is a well-known abstainer.5. Don’t smoke
It’s been decades since the tobacco industry started losing favor with the American public. As the health risks of smoking have become increasingly apparent, there’s been more effort in warning people about the dangerous side effects.
That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to kick the unsightly habit, but your body will thank you in the long run. Former president Barack Obama was one successful leader who quit smoking through Nicorette gum. He gave up the habit while still in office and claimed to be “tobacco free” in 2017.
John Hall is the co-founder and president of Calendar, a time management app, and the co-founder of Influence & Co., a content marketing agency. He is also the author of the best-selling book “Top of Mind.”