When it comes to staying healthy, most people have the same motivation: living as long and fulfilling a life as possible. And while science has yet to find a true fountain of youth, researchers have identified certain behaviors that can increase longevity.
One study, published in the journal Circulation last year, even argued that adhering to just five healthy habits could extend your lifespan by roughly a decade. Here’s what they are, and what research to date says about living your longest life.
1. Eating a healthy diet
Diet is strongly linked to longevity. Research has long suggested that following a Mediterranean diet which includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and healthy fats, and not much sugar, red meat or processed food brings a host of health benefits, including a longer life.
Other studies have also found longevity benefits associated with some of the specific foods and nutrients included in a Mediterranean diet, such as whole grains, fiber, fish, plant-based proteins and healthy fats. On the other hand, foods including processed snacks and meats, fried foods and sugar-sweetened beverages have been linked to higher risks of chronic disease and death.
2. Exercising regularly
Working out regularly is a boon for both your physical and mental health, boosting everything from cardiovascular fitness to mood and energy so it’s no surprise that it can also extend your life. Federal physical activity guidelines recommend aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week, plus twice-weekly muscle-strengthening sessions, to reap health and longevity benefits.
But you don’t have to go overboard. Even short bouts of light physical activity, such as walking and cleaning, increased the lifespans of older men and women in studies from 2018 and 2017, respectively. And a study published in January found that simply moving instead of sitting for 30 minutes each day could reduce early death risk by 17%.
3. Maintaining a healthy body weight
Diet and exercise habits help people maintain a healthy body weight, which the Circulation study defined as a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9. Obesity is associated with chronic conditions including Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, all of which can shorten your life. A 2018 study found that widespread obesity shaved a year off the U.S. life expectancy and is responsible for up to 186,000 deaths per year.
4. Drinking only in moderation
For years, moderate drinking was touted as a harmless and maybe even healthy habit. But recently, scientific opinion has begun to shift toward a more cautious stance on alcohol.
Last year, a large meta-analysis of prior alcohol studies concluded that there is no safe amount of drinking, because the net risks to a population addiction, cancer, traffic accidents and so on outweigh any potential benefits, such as improved cardiovascular and cognitive health.
5. Not smoking
In addition to causing lung cancer, cigarette-smoking is associated with serious health problems including heart attack, stroke and mouth and throat cancers, making it a significant threat to longevity. The best way to reduce your risk, of course, is never to smoke at all but if you do, experts advise quitting as soon as possible to minimize threats to your health.