We are creatures of habit. Which habits we keep and which ones we ditch are the secret to how long we live, and how healthy those years are, according to a new study published in the Harvard Medical School Journal. Some of the findings (and habits to follow) are obvious— others? Not so much. The question is do you have what it takes to make habits out of the health boosters? And kick the others to the curb? If so you have the best chance of living a longer, happier, healthier life. Read on for the simple, but not always easy, habits to create on repeat.

Want a Longer Expectancy Free of Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease, and Diabetes?

In the study, which was a fresh review of the famous Nurses’ Health Study (that followed over 73,000 participants from 1980 to 2014; and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (which tracked over 38,000 people from 1986-2014), it became clear that by following the five healthy-living habits, you could change your life expectancy at age 50 and stretch those years out as a healthy person.

Women who had the healthiest habits lived an extra 14 years and men who did all five added an extra 12 years to their life expectancy, pushing their expected birthdays well into their late 80s and early 90s—and those were healthy years! Want to retire and travel? Learn to fly? Dance at your grandchildren's wedding? No problem, since you can live out those decades free of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. That sounds like a good deal. Here's how to make it happen.

Here is what you need to know, to get in the groove of being your healthiest, with little tweaks throughout your day.

Healthy Habit 1. Eat a Plant-Based Diet

Adopt a healthy diet, which means a mostly plant-based diet that entails regularly eating healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy plant-or-nut fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and excess sodium.

Healthy Habit 2.  Get Moving for More Than 30 Minutes a Day

Sorry, no rest for the weary. But if you hop out of bed and into your running sneakers every morning, you'll be glad you did when you hit 50 since that's when all that paying into the fitness bank pays you back. You will be able to "go the distance" and keep up with your kids and their kids if you get strong, fit and healthy now and stay that way. Thirty minutes of moderate to hard physical activity, which can be your spin class, Bootcamp or brisk walking.

Healthy Habit 3. Maintain a Healthy Body Weight, which is 18.5 to 24.9 BMI

  • Everyone hates BMI as a measure of healthy body weight since it's widely been pointed out that strong athletes (think Venus Williams) have more muscle than fat, and their BMI can be unusually high as a result. A healthy BMI  of 18.5 to 24.9 is an indicator of body mass multiplied by the square of the body height. If you are lean and strong, your weight can be higher and your BMI can hover at the north end even if you're healthy.
  • That said, weighing in at least once a year at your doctor's visit—or more frequently if that works for you-- can help you calculate your BMI (Body Mass Index). The goal is to stay within a BMI range that indicates a healthy body weight. Want to drop weight quickly, naturally and relatively easily? Intermittent fasting appears to work as a way of losing weight and keeping it off. For more on Intermittent Fasting, check out our story here. 

Healthy Habit 4. Smoking is Out. SO Totally Out.

  • A life-saving habit is to not smoke. Not even a little. In fact, if you ever smoked you need to thank yourself for quitting. If you never smoked, thank yourself for being smarter than  that. And if you smoke, promise yourself this is the last day. This is the most important and binary habit on the list, because there is no healthy amount of smoking.

Healthy Habit 5: Keep Your Vino Down to One Glass a Day!

  • Keep your alcohol intake down. A healthy amount of alcohol is between 5 and 15 grams per day for women and between 5 to 30 grams of alcohol for men. Since a typical drink has between 10 to 14 grams of alcohol, the max for women would be a drink one day—and for men would be up to two drinks a day. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits is 14 grams of alcohol.

Can't get all these to happen? Any amount is better than none. Do the best you can. In the study, even if someone only adheres to one of these healthy habits, they lived an average of two years longer than if they had managed none of the above.

Got all five in the bag? Amazing. If by age 50 you regularly practiced all five of these habits, you are going to be looking at a lot of candles. Women who achieved all five lived an extra 14 years and men who checked five boxes lived an extra 12 years. Save for the long-haul.

Best News: Those Extra Years Will Be Healthy!

In the new study, researchers wanted to know if those extra years would be spent roller skating through life or spent on the sidelines. Participants were asked in follow-up questionnaires if they had developed medical problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or cancer. The answers were later verified by a review of their medical records.

The study found that having at least four of the five healthy habits gave people a major boost of protection against developing any of the major illnesses (heart disease, diabetes or cancer) and on average they managed to spend about a decade longer free of these diseases compared to people who did not practice these 5 healthy habits.

Longevity and Health Don't Always Go Hand in Hand.

In general, living longer and living healthier don't always correlate. The goal is to add quality years and avoid these chronic diseases, which are often associated with pain, illness, hospitalizations, and expensive long-term care—not the kind of active old age we all envision looking forward to. The top 10 diagnoses that lead to nursing care include strokes, heart disease, and obesity, according to the National Association of Health Data Organizations. Each of these is also highly influenced by diet and lifestyle habits. See you at the gym!

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