Five steps to a healthy lifestyle for a longer life

Why does the United States have one of the lowest life expectancies among wealthy countries despite spending the most on healthcare? (To be precise: 79 years old, ranking 31st, and $9,400 per capita.)

Maybe the healthcare field has been approaching it improperly for too long.

Longevity and a healthy lifestyle

Using information from the renowned Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS), researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health performed a substantial study on the influence of healthy behaviors on life expectancy. This indicates they've had access to information for a very long time on a large number of individuals. Over 78,000 women were tracked by the NHS between 1980 and 2014. Over 40,000 males were enrolled in the HPFS, which tracked them from 1986 to 2014. There are more than 120,000 individuals in this study, and the data span 28 years for men and 34 years for women.

The researchers examined information from the NHS and HPFS that had been gathered via routinely given, validated questionnaires about food, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol intake.

What exactly constitutes a healthy lifestyle?

These five categories were included because previous research has indicated they have a significant influence on the risk of dying prematurely. Here is how these beneficial practices were identified and evaluated:

  1. A healthy diet, which was assessed based on the reported consumption of foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as foods such as red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened drinks, trans fats, and salt.

  2. A healthy physical activity level, defined as at least 30 minutes a day of intense to moderate activity.

  3. A healthy body weight is one with a body mass index (BMI) that falls within the range of 18.5 and 24.9.

  4. There is no such thing as a safe level of smoking. Here, being "healthy" meant never having smoked.

  5. Moderate alcohol consumption, defined as 5 to 15 grams for women and 5 to 30 grams for males per day. Typically, one drink has 14 grams of pure alcohol in it. That is equivalent to 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of basic beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Along with comparative information from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research, researchers also examined data on age, nationality, and medication usage.

Does leading a healthy lifestyle affect anything?

As it turns out, healthy habits have a significant impact. Those who satisfied the criterion for all five behaviors had noticeably, remarkably longer lives than those who had none, 14 years for women and 12 years for men, according to this research (if they had these habits at age 50). None of these behaviors significantly increased the risk of dying early from cancer or cardiovascular disease.

Researchers from the study also used the prevalence of these five healthy behaviors in participants to estimate life expectancy. The life expectancy of both men and women was increased by two years with the addition of only one good behavior (and it didn't matter which one). It should come as no surprise that individuals lived longer when they had more healthful behaviors.

It's a big deal. Additionally, it supports a huge amount of earlier related studies. People 50 and older who had healthy weight, had never smoked, and drank alcohol in moderation lived on average seven years longer, according to a 2017 research utilizing data from the Health and Retirement Study. More than 500,000 people participated in a 2012 mega-analysis of 15 multinational research, which revealed that unhealthy lifestyle choices including smoking, inactivity, obesity, poor food, and excessive alcohol use account for more than half of early deaths. The list of corroborating studies just keeps going.

What is the (huge) problem in US healthcare?

The authors of this study note that rather than working to avoid illnesses, the US has a tendency to spend outrageous amounts of money on creating expensive pharmaceuticals and other forms of therapy. This is a serious issue.

According to experts, large-scale population-level public health initiatives and policy reforms are the greatest method to support individuals in changing to healthy diets and lifestyles, similar to laws requiring seat belt use and motorcycle helmets.  With regards to cigarette and trans fat laws, we have made some progress.

Big business, of course, is pushing back strongly on that. Large companies won't sell as much fast food, chips, and soda if we have rules and regulations encouraging people to live healthy lives. And that enrages businesses that are adamant about earning money at the expense of human lives.