Studies that span decades get disproportionate attention from me because they ultimately incorporate what really happens over time (specificity replaces speculation). This is especially true of studies seeking to discern what helps us live longer, happier, more productive lives.
Especially when they come from such credible sources as Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which published a 2018 study based on 34 years of data on behaviors leading to longer lives. The study is the first ever comprehensive analysis of the impact of adopting low-risk lifestyle factors on life expectancy in the U.S.
The findings are crystal clear and highlight 5 specific behaviors that can add up to 10 happy, more productive years (or more) to a person’s life. In fact, among the 122,000 people studied, those that followed all 5 of the behaviors that follow meant that they were a whopping 74 percent less likely to die during the study period. Men added 12 years to their life while women added on average 14 years to their life when doing these five things:
And of course, it directly adds to life longevity — in fact, one in five deaths globally are associated in some form with a poor diet. Harvard’s School of Public Health recommends a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Consider consulting a nutritionist to help build a good eating plan for you.
2. Exercise daily.
Regular exercise keeps you feeling your best and gives you energy which directly leads to long term happiness and productivity gains, not to mention the life longevity benefit — which is substantial.
A study from the National Cancer Institute said that just focusing on exercising daily could add as much as 4.5 years to your life. The Harvard researchers define adequate daily exercise as at least 30 minutes or more per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. While this can be difficult for office workers who spend a lot of time sitting at their desks, more workplaces are providing employees with options to get exercise before, after, or during the workday — you just have to make it a priority.
Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, who prioritizes his health, puts in this way: “Many people say they don’t have the time for exercise, and you’re right, you don’t have the time unless you make the time. You set your priorities, and unless your health is one of them, it can be easy to find something else to do that seems more important. The reality is, there is nothing more important than looking after yourself.”
3. Maintain a healthy weight.
Similar to when you’re eating right, when you’re at a healthy weight, you just feel better, have more energy, and are happier and more productive. I cut sugar out of my diet, upped my exercise, and dropped 16 pounds. I’m 100 percent convinced it has made me more effective as a writer, speaker, coach, and teacher. I can’t imagine going back to my old weight.
While a healthy weight varies by person, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute says a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 is seen as healthy. Your BMI is calculated by taking into account your precise height versus your exact weight (have this calculated at your next doctors visit). And weigh yourself frequently as a 2016 study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed if you keep a close eye on your weight you’re less likely to gain weight.
4. Moderate your alcohol intake.
The old saying “everything in moderation” is especially true with the intake of alcohol. The Harvard researchers define moderate alcohol consumption as, for example, up to one 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women, or 2 glasses for men.
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