It's Not Too Late to Get Healthy

New research suggests adapting a healthy lifestyle as you get older adds more years to your life.

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- Posted on Jun 19, 2018

Shot of a mature couple enjoying a bike ride in the park.

We all know the keys to living longer: eating healthy, exercising daily, and avoiding bad lifestyle habits, but did you know that practicing these simple steps when you’re 50 and older can drastically lengthen your life span? 

According to new research conducted by Harvard University scientists, adults who follow five healthy habits which include never smoking, maintaining a body-mass index (BMI) below 30, exercising for at least 30 minutes a day, drinking alcohol only moderately, and following a well-balanced diet, can add a decade or more to their lifespan. 

The study, published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulationsuggests that men over age 50 who follow these five lifestyle habits can add up to 12 years to their lives while women who follow these health habits can add 14 years to their lifespans. While the method to living a longer and healthier life hasn’t changed much over the years, this new information regarding the benefits of working out and eating healthy later in life is a bit of a breakthrough in terms of how we look at aging. 

Modern medicine often treats the elderly with a more reactive approach, focusing on discovering and creating medicines and therapies to combat life-threatening illnesses like cancer and especially heart disease. According to scientists who conducted this study, the focus should be on preventative measures, making sure aging adults are adapting healthy habits before they reach a stage in life when health issues normally arise. 

"It is critical to put prevention first," said Frank Hu, M.D., who chairs the Department of Nutrition at Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "Prevention, through diet and lifestyle modifications, has enormous benefits in terms of reducing the occurrence of chronic diseases, improving life expectancy as shown in this study, and reducing health care costs.”

Approaching aging in a preventative way would be a major change for our medical communities her in the United States. Americans currently have shorter life expectancies compared to citizens of other wealthier nations like Japan and Canada. Heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death in the United States and while both illnesses are partially fated based on a person’s genes, heart disease in particular can arise because of certain lifestyle habits. 

One of those habits includes smoking, which scientists said was the biggest determining factor in a person’s longevity. The researchers analyzed data from two separate studies, the "Nurses’ Health Study" and the "Health Professionals Follow-Up Study," which monitored the health of over 120,000 adults based on dietary, medical, and lifestyle information they provided. Over the span of the 28 to 34 years these studies were conducted, over 42,000 people died with most of those deaths caused by cancer and heart disease. Researchers found that there was a direct correlation with an adult’s risk of premature death and their lifestyle habits, with those following all five of the healthy habits enjoying significantly longer lives. 

In other words, it seems that the older you get, the more important it is to live a consciously healthy and active life. Eating a balanced diet, avoiding smoking and other habits detrimental to your health, and getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day really does make a difference, especially as you age.

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