Critter Corner: Lifestyle Tweaks that Could Lengthen your Life 23+ Years!

Hayek 1Dear Hayek,

I heard somewhere that there are things you can do to increase your lifespan dramatically. What are some of those lifestyle tweaks? Thanks for your help!

Liv Longur

Dear Liv,

You’re correct. According to new research, healthy habits such as exercising, getting good sleep, and drinking in moderation could pay off not just in quality of life, but in length of life too. That’s according to new research presented earlier this week at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual conference in Boston.

Researchers examined the data of nearly 720,000 veterans ages 40–99, who were followed over time. Those who adopted certain healthy habits saw a 13% reduction in mortality compared to those who did not. Forty-year-olds who adopt all of the healthy habits I describe could gain between 23 and 24 years of life expectancy, according to the research team, mostly comprised of Harvard and Department of Veterans Affairs affiliated scientists in Boston.

The study found that the three most impactful habits when it came to extending life span were exercising, not being addicted to opioids, and not smoking. Those who didn’t have these healthy habits were 30% to 45% more likely to die during the study. Stress, binge drinking, poor diet, and not getting good sleep were associated with around a 20% increase of death during the study. A lack of positive social relationships added a 5% increased risk of death.

Here’s what you can do to help extend your lifespan: 

  • Be physically active:  In the study, those who got 30 minutes or more of moderate or vigorous physical activity a day were considered to be physically active. Such people should be able to walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded, according to Xuan-Mai Nguyen, a medical student at the Carle Illinois College of Medicine in Champaign, Ill., and a researcher on the study. To get started, take a walk around the block and start to build exercise into your daily schedule. 
  • Don’t smoke: Life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than it is for non-smokers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The good news: If you quit smoking before age 40, you can reduce the risk of dying from a smoking-related disease by about 90%.
  • Get good, quality sleep:  Participants who got, on average, seven to nine hours of sleep a night and didn’t suffer from insomnia were considered to have good sleep. Insomnia was defined as having one or more of the following symptoms: difficulty initiating sleep, difficulty maintaining sleep, and/or early-morning awakenings, along with sleep that isn’t refreshing or excessive daytime sleepiness.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Those who generally adhered to a plant-based diet were considered to have a healthy diet.
  • Don’t binge-drink: Study participants whose peak daily alcoholic beverage consumption in the past month was four drinks or less were not considered to be binge drinkers. Those who consumed five or more drinks in one day on their heaviest drinking day in the past month were considered to be binge drinkers.
  • Live a minimal-stress life: Chronic stress advances one’s biological (or epigenetic) clock, potentially shortening their life span, according to a Yale-based study. Thankfully, relaxing can set that clock in reverse! Please see Mr. Farr’s article on this subject for more details. 
  • Have positive social relationships: Loneliness is a greater risk factor for early death than obesity and physical inactivity, comparable to the risk associated with smoking and drinking, some studies have found. Read more here. 
  • Avoid opioids: U.S. opioid deaths hit a record high in 2021, according to federal data, seemingly fueled by pandemic isolation. Medications exist to treat those with opioid use disorders, and to make quitting more bearable.  Learn more here. 

While adopting these factors by age 40 is ideal, adopting even one or a few at any point in life helps, researchers say. A 60-year-old with all these healthy habits could expect to see just under 20 years’ gain, and an 80-year-old around 10 years. A 40-year-old with just four of the healthy habits saw about a 10-year increase in life expectancy, and an 80-year-old around five years. “The earlier the better, but even if you only make a small change in your forties, fifties, or sixties, it is still beneficial,” Nguyen says.

Hope this is helpful,


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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.