Adopting a healthy lifestyle for longer life

There seems to be an insatiable appetite for advice on how to improve one’s health and longevity, so it is not surprising that news items that claim to purport scientific research on the benefits of this or that diet or exercise or lifestyle choices appear regularly. The advice can sometimes be contradictory and thus can be confusing and lead people to tune out altogether, which is unfortunate. Since my personal motto is to act in moderation in all things, I tend to ignore recommendations that require taking extreme steps,

This article suggests eight lifestyle choices that can prolong life by as much as 20 years. Many of the recommendations seem like common sense, which appealed to me.

The study found that people were likely to live longer when they made only minor changes, even if they delayed embracing the healthier habits until middle age.

The research, presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Boston, drew on data from questionnaires and medical records collected between 2011 and 2019. The records covered more than 700,000 US veterans aged from 40 to 99 who were enrolled in the Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program.

Nguyen and her colleagues analysed the data to identify which lifestyle factors were associated with a longer lifespan. Medical records collected for the project showed that 33,375 participants died during the study period.

The team added that, when combined, the lifestyle factors could have a substantial impact on life expectancy, increasing a person’s lifespan by decades.

“Men and women who adopted eight therapeutic lifestyle factors could gain 23.7 or 22.6 years of life expectancy, respectively, at age 40 years compared to those with no adopted lifestyle factors,” the authors write.

Being physically inactive, using opioid drugs, and smoking had the strongest associations with heading to an early grave: participants with these lifestyle factors had a 30%-45% higher risk of death over the study period, the researchers found. By contrast, stress, binge-drinking, poor sleep hygiene and poor diet were associated with about a 20% higher risk of death in the period studied.

The observational nature of the research, however, means the work cannot prove a causal link between the factors identified and differences in lifespan.

So what are the eight recommendations that could extend your life?

  • Eat well.
  • Avoid cigarettes.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Be physically active.
  • Manage stress.
  • Avoid binge drinking.
  • Be free from opioid addiction.
  • Have positive social relationships.

Some of them (avoiding cigarettes, binge drinking, and opioids) are straightforward while others may require fleshing out. What does eating well entail? What constitutes a good night’s sleep? How much physical activity is optimal? How can one manage stress and develop positive social relationships?

These results were presented at a meeting and presumably the filling in of details will be done in the published paper.


  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    I’ve heard terrible things about binge. I’ll stick to vodka.

    I manage stress by exercising, drinking and smoking. Not all at once though.

  2. raven says

    Here is one thing not to do to live longer.
    Don’t eat a diet of only raw tropical fruits.

    I’m sure it wasn’t the raw tropical fruits that killed her but more a lack of fats and proteins.

    You can generalize this to avoid extreme diets and eat a sensible balanced diet and try not to gain too many fat pounds.

    Influencer’s death ‘of malnutrition’ -- a stark warning why we shouldn’t take health advice off social media
    Annemarie Quill 05:00, Aug 03 2023
    Social media influencer Zhanna Samsonova died after eating just tropical fruit.

    Social media influencer Zhanna Samsonova died after eating just tropical fruit.
    The death of a social media influencer ‘of malnutrition’ shows why we shouldn’t take health advice straight from social media, experts warn.

    Zhanna Samsonova, a Russian blogger who regularly posted about her extreme diet of raw tropical fruit on Instagram and TikTok, died last month from an infection in Malaysia, with friends “horrified” how emaciated she had become.

    The 39-year-old claimed she had not drunk water for six years, drinking fruit and vegetable juices instead.

    “I eat simple food, although I have a lot of experience as a raw food chef,” she wrote on social media. “I love creating my own recipes and inspiring people to eat healthier.”

    She boasted of eating no salt, oil or protein and insisted that she never caught a cold.

    Her official cause of death has not been revealed. Her mother blamed it on a “cholera-like infection”, but friends say she had become more emaciated and died of malnutrition.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    Short term: As above!
    Longer term:
    Germline GM.
    We know some families and populations are healthier and live longer.
    -In an even longer perspective, unlock the secret to how the giant bowhead whales avoid cancer and live up to two centuries.
    As they have no natural enemies evolution has allowed them to explore the evolutionary strategy of “very long-lived mammals”.

    I am not interested in helping billionaires to live longer (although they will probably finance the research) but eventually the biotech will become available for us plebes. The chairman of Weyland-Yutani can pay for the road.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    My equally applicable equally helpful advice:

    1. Be rich.
    2. Be Oriental or Southern European.
    3. Er…
    4. That’s it.

    “Avoid opioid addiction” is of course common sense, but so is “avoid getting run over by a car” -- the “recommendation” make the large assumption that it’s a simple matter of deciding “oh, I’ll stop doing that”. Similarly “manage stress” and “have positive relationships” -- if everyone could simply choose to do that, the world would be a very different place.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    The death of a social media influencer ‘of malnutrition’ shows why we shouldn’t take health advice straight from social media, experts warn

    If you need an expert to tell you this, or if you need someone to die to show you this, you’re not really safe to be in the world unsupervised.

  6. birgerjohansson says

    Alas, the pandemic showed a terribly large number should not have been allowed to trawl social media unsupervised…
    There is no penalty for spreading dangerous misinformation, unless you charge money for it or falsely claim to have a protected medical title.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    The latest issue of New Scientist is adressing a similar topic, alas it is subscriber-only.

  8. SailorStar says

    I think germline plays a huge part of longer life in the absence of obvious life-shorteners like drug- and alcohol-abuse. There’s so much variability to human DNA, and advice that’s ideal for some might be terrible for others. For example, the advice to “eat lots of whole grains!” is terrible for someone with a genetic bent toward celiac disease. “Eat the rainbow!” of fruits and vegetables is terrible for someone with a genetic predisposition to not tolerate nightshades (cherries, tomatoes, eggplant, all peppers, etc.). “Get plenty of beans” can be deadly for someone with a legume allergy.

    I think this is one reason why advice appears contradictory; it might work (generally) in one population, but not at all in another.

  9. mnb0 says

    Why would living longer be desirable? To “enjoy” more diseases that get worse and worse? For the sake of clarity, I follow all these advises to a pretty great extent, but only because it improves the quality of my life now. It’s just that I won’t mind anymore if I was told that I’ll die pretty soon. I’ve had a pretty good life and won’t give up any pleasures to postpone the inevitable.

  10. Alan G. Humphrey says

    SailorStar @ 8
    Cherries are not nightshades, Solanaceae. They are in the rose family, Rosaceae.

  11. Oggie: Mathom says

    Eat well.
    — I already do. Have for a long time. Some meat, some cured meats, but lots of fresh veggies, fresh fruit, cooked veggies, pasta, faro, grits, dried beans, and olive oil. Not all at the same time, of course.
    Avoid cigarettes.
    — Stopped smoking cigarettes in college. Stopped smoking pipes in 2005. Stopped smoking cigars in 2020.
    Get a good night’s sleep.
    — Every night.
    Be physically active.
    — I try. Back, neck, knee, hip.
    Manage stress.
    — Since I retired, my stress is down about 90%. I really didn’t realize just how really toxic my office was.
    Avoid binge drinking.
    — Never have.
    Be free from opioid addiction.
    — Despite chronic and acute pain, I have managed to avoid that pitfall. How, I do not know.
    Have positive social relationships.
    — My social relationships are my family. Having things to do with others tends to increase stress.

    Of course, I am also white, middle class, I have government employee health insurance, I live three miles from three different good hospitals, and, somewhere along the line, the harassers who were going after me online faded away. So I guess privilege is, well, a privilege?

  12. says

    I have to agree @4.

    In the US at least, I’d think you’d see the best correlation between long life and being rich and white. It is no secret that the so-called “US health care system” works extremely well if you are rich, so-so if you’re middle class, and poorly if you’re poor. I don’t think I have to say anything about race in this context. These things have been reported on repeatedly.

    And when I say “long life”, I am also inferring a good quality of life in those latter years. There’s not much sense in living many years if you’re in considerable discomfort and/or can’t do much of anything.

    One thing that I have gleaned from health professionals is to not take any drugs unless you absolutely have to. Virtually all drugs have side effects and interactions, and managing those issues can be a nightmare. Of course, pharma wants everyone to be on long term maintenance drugs. That’s how they make their money. They would much prefer a drug that “manages” a condition over one that cures it, because cures end potential revenue streams. Besides, there’s potential bonus points in prescribing drug(s) to manage the side effects of the management drug. Bonus points for Wall Street!

    Besides the obvious advice of eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep (I have read that 7 hours seems to be associated with longer life), etc., perhaps the best advice is that given to aspiring endurance athletes that I heard many years ago: “Choose your parents wisely”.

  13. SailorStar says

    @ Alan G. Humphrey: you’re right--I googled a list of nightshades and it said ground cherry, not cherry. I missed the “ground” part.

    I forgot to add to my last list, dairy products. The what-to-eat lists include dairy products. Some people have no problems digesting dairy and find it can be a great source of calcium, protein, and a handful of vitamins and minerals. But some people can’t tolerate dairy products.

    So, advice to “eat well” is highly dependent on the individual’s genetic makeup.

  14. jrkrideau says

    @1 Rob Grigjanis
    I’ve heard terrible things about binge.
    Are you sure you don’t mean screech?

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    Decades ago I spent some time with a dedicated fruitarian. He had his lifestyle down to a routine, which included (not sure I remember the order exactly) one night of hacking up phlegm, one night of “high” restless energy spent writing, sketching, etc, and one night of deep sleep. He otherwise seemed reasonably healthy, but his example did not inspire emulation.

  16. John Morales says

    That’s where stoicism comes in, Tabby.

    Thing is, no matter what, with age comes decrepitude.

    (Who wants to end up a struldbrugg?)

  17. lochaber says

    Tabby Lavalamp@16

    Hey! can I sit at your table?

    maybe when we get a couple more people, we can start building guillotines?

  18. John Morales says

    I don’t think suicide is the best solution, lochaber.

    (But it does avoid the ageing thing)

  19. birgerjohansson says

    Monash University has a study that says a mother’s diet can protect her grandchildren’s brains, but I do not have the background to comprehend the article.

  20. SailorStar says

    @ birgerjohansson: you’re talking about epigenetics. Fascinating topic. I took an online course on it and some of the details went over my head. The basics: living conditions can cause genes to express or not-express themselves, and that genetic (non)-expression can pass itself down to future generations.

    Here’s a commonly-used example: when Germany occupied Holland, many Dutch people came close to starving to death. The generation that was born during/in the years after the occupation was prone to obesity, diabetes, and heart dysfunction--malnutrition in the mother and father led to metabolic irregularities. The generation after that is also more prone to that metabolic disregulation.

  21. sonofrojblake says

    @SailorStar: I think epigenetics is not what was being referred to. I only recently heard (last three or four years?) something similar, but when you think about it, it makes sense. Consider: my children arose from the combination of my gametes with those of my wife. As a biological male, I’ve been manufacturing gametes 24/7 since before the first Space Shuttle launch. My wife, by contrast, came into the world with her lifetime’s supply already in place. Who made those? Her mum… my children’s grandmother. It’s therefore reasonable to assume that my wife’s MOTHER’S diet in the first half of the 1980s has a direct bearing on the health prospect of my kids. This is independent of/additional to any effects of environment. It’s quite mind-boggling.

  22. Oggie: Mathom says

    Tabby Lavalamp@16:

    I didn’t intend to retire. A fall, a dislocated disc in my neck, major surgery, partial recovery got in the way. I had figured on retiring in 2031. One advantage of being a federal employee. Actual retirement.

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