The Five Practices Shown to Extend Life More Than a Decade

In the United States, a majority of individuals fall short of their optimal health potential. A disconcerting six out of ten Americans grapple with at least one chronic disease, as reported by the CDC, with four out of ten facing the challenge of managing two or more conditions. The toll of chronic ailments such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes are substantial, impacting both individual health and overall productivity.

Embracing a lifestyle that prioritizes self-care is synonymous with adopting the principles of lifestyle medicine—an evidence-backed strategy for preventing and treating diseases by fostering healthy habits. While it doesn’t replace conventional medicine, it stands as a huge complement, offering a holistic approach to well-being.

A pivotal study conducted in 2018 by researchers from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health delved into data from the CDC, the Nurses’ Health Study, and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.1 Their findings highlighted the transformative impact of five specific lifestyle habits, revealing significant reductions in the risks of heart disease and cancer when compared to those who neglected these practices. The commendable habits embraced by the healthier participants encompassed:

  1. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fatty acids, while minimizing red and processed meats, sugary drinks, trans fats, and sodium.
  2. Abstinence from smoking.
  3. Engaging in at least three-and-a-half hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week.
  4. Consuming only moderate amounts of alcohol, not exceeding one drink per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.
  5. Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) within the range of 18.5 to 24.9.

The effectiveness of these measures was striking. The researchers observed that adhering to all five habits from the age of 50 onward extended life by more than a decade compared to those who neglected these practices. Women who incorporated all these habits lived, on average, until the age of 93, while their counterparts who adopted none reached an average age of 79. Similarly, men who embraced these habits lived nearly 13 years longer, with an average age of almost 88, compared to those who did not, reaching an average age of 75.

While cultivating habits that nurture a healthy body is a commendable starting point for self-care, scientific understanding emphasizes the inseparable connection between the mind and body. Thoughts and emotions wield substantial influence over health outcomes. Stressful events can cause blood pressure spikes, depression diminishes pain tolerance, and loneliness emerges as a contributor to premature death—a mere glimpse into the myriad ways in which mental and emotional well-being intertwine with physical health.

In the realm of self-care, the foundation for genuine well-being extends beyond these five habits. Acknowledging the intricate link between mind and body becomes paramount, as these practices set the stage for a comprehensive approach to holistic wellness.


  1. Yanping Li, An Pan, Dong D. Wang, Xiaoran Liu, et al. Originally published 30 Apr 2018 Circulation. 2018;138:345–355
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