5 Simple Ways to Add 10+ Years to Your Life

Dear Rich Lifer,

Despite America being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, the life expectancy of the average American is still shorter than almost all other high-income countries, including Japan, Canada, Norway… and dozens of other countries.

The citizens of the top 5 countries have an average life expectancy bordering on 85 years. The average life expectancy of Americans? About 79 years, says the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The top two killers in the US are heart disease and cancer.

About 647,500 people die of heart disease in the US each year, which is about one in every four deaths, according to the CDC. And about 600,000 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year, According to the American Cancer Society.

One reason the US has such low life expectancy rates compared to other high-income countries is our healthcare system is focused mainly on disease management and drug discovery, whereas other countries place more emphasis on disease prevention.

But it’s not all doom and gloom…

A recent study out of Harvard University found that men and women living in the US can add 12+ years to their lives by adopting five simple habits after age 50.

We doubt any of them will be particularly surprising, but you’ll be shocked to find out just how much time these simple changes in habit can add to your life expectancy. 

The Harvard Lifestyle Study

A group of researchers at Harvard University studied data from 123,219 patients compiled during a 34-year period in the Nurses’ Health Study and 28 years of the Professionals Follow-up Study.

They focused on patients with five “low-risk lifestyle factors”: never smoking; exercising for 30 minutes a day at a moderate to vigorous level (including brisk walking); having a normal body mass index; eating a healthy diet; and consuming a moderate level of alcohol, defined as no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.

What they found was that women over age 50 who engaged in all five low-risk factors lived an average of 14 years longer than women who adopted none of the lifestyle factors. 

Men over age 50 who adopted all five factors lived an average 12.2 years longer than men who adopted none of the five factors. 

Not surprisingly, the men and women with the biggest improvements in life expectancy came from avoiding the two biggest killers in America: heart disease and cancer. 

So what is it about these five factors that prolong life? 

Here’s a breakdown of each of the five factors with action steps you can take TODAY to add a decade or more to your lifespan. 

Quitting Smoking

This one may seem like a no brainer, but if you smoke, quit. If you’ve never been a smoker, keep it that way. Researchers at Queen Mary University of London studied the health habits of more than 215,000 people in the U.S., the U.K., and Australia. They found that between 60.9% and 76.9% of people who tried a cigarette, even once, went on to become daily smokers.

If you are a smoker, the U.S. Surgeon General counts quitting as the “single most important step” you can take to enhance the length and quality of your life.

Out of all the behaviors studied, smoking had the most powerful effect on life expectancy. Data shows that smoking reduces your life expectancy by 7 years. 

The group from Harvard’s study that saw the biggest boost in life expectancy was Americans who didn’t smoke at all. But that didn’t mean they had never smoked earlier in their life — in fact, a lot of the respondents had, and then quit. 

Quitting smoking can decrease your chances of many diseases, including a long list of cancers (bladder, cervix, esophagus, kidney, larynx, lung, mouth, pancreas, stomach, throat and some forms of leukemia), as well as heart attack, stroke, and emphysema.

The data is clear. Don’t start smoking, or quit today. The sooner you quit, the bigger the impact on life expectancy you’ll have. So even if you do everything else wrong with your health, quitting smoking could be the one factor that adds years to your life. 

If you’re serious about quitting, smokefree.gov is a great resource that can help you build a smoking cessation program. 

You can also call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345 for a list of support groups or telephone-based quit lines in your area.

Performing Moderate Exercise

It doesn’t matter how hard you exercise, even brisk walking counts, so long as you exercise for more than 30 minutes every single day. Just 30 minutes of activity a day is enough to make a huge difference in your lifespan. 

In fact, researchers at Brigham Young University say that certain types of physical exercise can actually slow the aging process within our cells. 

 This means you’ll have physical conditioning that matches the natural age progression of a significantly younger person — by as much as nine years younger.

Researchers at BYU studied 5,823 adults who had participated in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research project called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

 The BYU researchers defined the type of “high level physical activity” that would achieve this as “30 minutes of jogging for women, or 40 minutes of jogging for men,” five days a week. 

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends working in 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity at least four to six days per week. 

Starting a good habit of physical activity also makes it easier to remain active well into your senior years by keeping tendons, ligaments, and joints flexible and healthy.

Whether you take up jogging, swimming, biking, or just walking, incorporating some type of activity into most, if not all, days of the week is crucial to living longer. 

The Harvard team found the greatest longevity benefits from workouts that met this criteria. The best way to integrate moderate exercise into your daily schedule is by blocking the time off in your calendar every day. 

Doing it this way for 4-6 weeks will help ingrain the habit in your body like brushing your teeth. Whatever you do, don’t give yourself “cheat days.” Contrary to popular fitness advice, cheat days will only set you back further from achieving your goal of exercising daily. 

Instead, push through the early resistance until you don’t have to think about “having to workout,” you just do it.  

Keeping a Healthy BMI

“Maintaining a healthy weight will reduce your risk of chronic disease and help you to feel better so that your quality of life will be greatly improved,” say Dee Sandquist, M.S., R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) and director of nutrition, diabetes, weight management, and wound healing at Southwest Washington Medical Center. 

While body-mass index (BMI) is not a behavior you can change, it’s a measure that will indicate whether the other four behaviors you are trying to change are in check. 

The study’s researchers say a BMI in the 18.5 to 24.9 range is correlated with the longest life expectancy. 

How is BMI calculated? Glad you asked — it’s just a ratio of height to weight, so a tall skinny man might have a similar BMI to a short stocky man. 

For this reason, doctors don’t place too much emphasis on BMI but nevertheless, it’s still a helpful metric in determining whether the other low-risk factors are improving or detracting from your health goals. 

You can start by calculating your BMI here

Another way to determine whether you’re in a healthy weight range is to measure the smallest part of your waist, above the hips.

Sandquist recommends that men measure less than 40 inches and women less than 35 to reduce the risk of such chronic conditions as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. 

Of course, everybody is different and there could be some variation depending on your overall height and build.

However, these waist sizes indicate a significant amount of “visceral fat,” which gathers around your abdominal area. This type of fat is actually more dangerous than the fat you might gather around other parts of your body.

You can target this dangerous fat in many ways from cutting out sugar and alcohol to adding more protein and fiber to your diet. 

This leads us to the next good habit… 

Maintaining a Healthy Diet

The Harvard study defines a low-risk diet as being high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids, and low in sweetened beverages, trans fats, sodium, red meat, and processed meats, like hot dogs, sausages, and highly processed deli meats.

Nothing too surprising here. And while there’s no miracle diet that will cure all your ailments, one simple way to clean up your diet is by cooking more and eating out less. 

You’ll also save money. Cooking more is like working out. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. It pays to force yourself to repeatedly cook. Don’t get complacent by ordering fast food when you’re too tired to cook, push through the resistance. 

Drinking Alcohol Moderately

The last factor the study found was consumption of alcohol. American men consuming one-half to two drinks per day and women consuming one-half to a single drink per day have the same life expectancy compared to those who abstain from alcohol entirely. 

This is good news if you enjoy a glass of wine or beer after a long day. But there is one caveat: one or two drinks per day is not an average, it’s a daily cap. Which means you shouldn’t abstain all week and then drink 14 beers in one weekend. 

We say you shouldn’t because it’s not that you can’t do this occasionally, the key word here being occasionally, since you don’t want this to become a habit. 

A healthy diet is all about variety and moderation. 

Varying the foods you eat helps reduce the risk of chronic disease. 

Sandquist recommends the following equation: “Make half your grains whole grains, vary your veggies and fruits, go lean with protein and get calcium-rich foods.”

If you follow this general guideline you’ll be sure to digest the proper nutrients and antioxidants that can help you combat early aging. 

Antioxidants help your body repair some of the damage caused by aging. The greater the quantity and variety of plants you eat, the more raw materials your body has to make repairs.  

Moderating the amount of sugar, sodium, and cholesterol you eat is also important. 

What you drink is just as important as what you eat. 

Drinking an excess amount of alcohol is obviously harmful, but many studies have found that drinking moderately can improve health and longevity as opposed to not drinking at all. It’s all about making simple changes in your consumption to enjoy life how you want to, while maintaining and even improving your health!

If you want to live a longer and healthier life, then follow these five habits and you’ll instantly start improving your longevity.

To a richer life,

The Rich Life Roadmap Team

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