5 healthy habits for a longer, healthier, happier life

Our lifespan is strongly linked to our lifestyle and habits. Follow these five habits to increase the length and quality of your life

Woman holdings a basket of fresh veggies | healthy habits

Are healthy habits really worth cultivating? Absolutely! Several studies suggest that healthy habits can help us tack on years of life and sidestep some severe illnesses.

Now, it can be really confusing when it comes to healthy habits because often, even qualified experts seem to hold opposing opinions sometimes. Yet, despite all the disagreements that exist among the medical community, a number of health tips are backed up by research.

For instance, to determine which healthy habits contribute to a longer and healthier life, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health analysed data from nearly 73,000 women and more than 38,000 men. All the respondents who were part of the study have been enrolled in previous studies, so, data for women was followed for 34 years, and the men were followed for 28 years. The results of the study concluded that the more of these five healthy habits the respondents had, the longer they lived. Plus, the study suggests that even if they had only one of these habits, the participants lived two years longer compared to those that had none. And, if by the age of 50, the participants practised all of the five habits regularly, women lived an extra 14 years, and men lived an extra 12 years.

Here are five healthy habits based on good science that will help you live a longer, happier and healthier life.

5 healthy habits for a longer, healthier, happier life

1. Eat mostly plants

You’ve definitely heard it before, but that’s because it’s true: you are what you eat! Proper nutrition is the top wellness habit that contributes to a healthy and longer life. Now, good nutrition is often misunderstood by many people who think that following a fad diet is the key to maintaining good health. Yet, adequate nutrition actually means choosing only diverse nutrient-dense foods regularly.

Eating mostly plant-based foods such as freshly cooked vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains has been found to be the best diet for longevity.

Nutrition specialists recommend a healthy diet to contain the following: a full plate should be two-thirds low-glycemic vegetables, and maybe a small amount of starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, etc., and one-third protein. On the flip note, you should avoid processed junk food at all costs. These foods are low in fiber, protein, and micronutrients and usually contain high levels of unhealthy ingredients such as added sugar and refined grains. Moreover, these foods are projected to trigger our pleasure centers, which tricks our brains into overeating. That is why we often see food addiction in people who eat junk food consistently.

2. Exercise regularly

Exercising is another key habit of maintaining a healthy life. It can help you avoid numerous health conditions, and it is essential for maintaining bone and muscle health. Now, you don’t have to be a fitness junkie or a superstar athlete to have a healthy physical activity level. In fact, the study from Harvard mentioned above, suggests that at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity every day can have a significant impact on keeping you healthy longer.

However, specialists recommend focusing on variety and diversity when exercising. To be more precise, when working out, you shouldn’t focus entirely on a type of movement or a muscle group. Experts believe that since the body doesn’t work in isolation, and every bone, muscle, and body part has its contribution to movement, the more varied the types of movement and stimuli in your body, the deeper the fitness will be.

So, when exercising, include all types of movements in your workout, including pushing, pulling, walking, and twisting.

3. Maintain the ideal body weight

Weight management is a wellness habit that is strongly backed up by basic science. Another study from Harvard suggests that maintaining a healthy weight is essential for lowering the risk of several health conditions, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even the risk of different types of cancer. Now, weight management is obviously connected with regular exercising and healthy nutrition, especially since weight gain is caused not just by how much you eat but what you eat too. Yet, some people are also genetically predisposed to gain weight more easily than others. So, while being physically active and eating healthy foods remains important , they could try intermittent fasting as a way to lose weight.

4. Manage stress

Dealing with stress is inevitable. We all have stressful deadlines at work or personal problems that affect our mental health quality. Chronic stress can really take a toll on your health from affecting your sleep quality to affecting your immune system, physical health, and, obviously, mental and emotional wellbeing. Now, although it is impossible to live a completely stress-free life, there are a few strategies that can help you manage it. Unfortunately, even with a healthy diet and a habit of exercising regularly, you just can’t avoid stress. Yet, proper nutrition and being physically active can help you manage stress more efficiently.

Moreover, you can also learn to manage stress with mindfulness meditation. It is believed that meditation has plenty of benefits on the human body, from reducing blood pressure and heart rate to reduced brain activity, all thanks to the body’s response to relaxation. You don’t have to be a spiritual guru to manage stress through meditation. All you have to do is find a quiet space, close your eyes to disconnect from what surrounds you, and do some breathing exercises while gently focusing your attention on anything other than what caused you to feel stressed. You can think of a beautiful place where you feel safe, focus on your belly’s movements as you breathe, or even notice the sounds or smells in your environment without passing judgment. With time and practice, it will become a lot easier to manage stressful thoughts and get clarity. [Read How to ease into a daily routine of meditation]

5. Quit smoking now

Smoking is one of the worst habits. Every cigarette reduces your lifespan by 11 minutes. Studies have estimated that smokers die ten years sooner than non-smokers. The chance that someone will live to be 80 is only about 35% for smokers as compared to about 70% for nonsmokers. In other words, a smoker loses about 11 to 12 years of life compared to nonsmokers. Heavy smokers cut their lifespan by 13 years on average. On the other hand, those who kick the habit before age 40 reduce the excess risk of death associated with continued smoking by about 90%, according to the study in New England Journal of Medicine.

In conclusion

Our lifespan is strongly linked to our lifestyle and habits. You may live 100 years, but if you don’t enjoy good health, you are very unlikely to enjoy all this extra time. Indeed, you might actually spend your last decade or so suffering from one or more illnesses. Practising these five habits will not only help you live longer but also minimise the risks of disease as you grow older.

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