5 Healthy Habits

Much research has focused on longevity – living longer is a goal we can all relate to. But new research shows that there are some key habits that will help not only live longer, but live healthier without Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes (Frank Hu, Harvard School of Public Health, 2018).

In a 28-34 year longitudinal study of 111,500 people, Wu looked at healthy habits that in combination lead to a healthier lifespan – or Healthspan.

Healthy Eating

It’s no surprise that veggies, whole grains, nuts, beans & seafood are a big plus. And sugar, fruit juice & red/ processed meat are a big minus. Think of this as a Mediterranean-style combination of foods as a way of eating regularly – not a “diet.”

Exercising Regularly

Here’s the good news – your activity level only needs to be moderate for 30 minutes/day. That’s not too much to ask. And if you are able to exercise for 1-hour/day adds 5-6 years to your Healthspan alone. Find activities that you enjoy and be sure they are part of a daily routine.

Keep a Healthy Weight

Your Body Mass Index (BMI) should not be significantly over (or under) the norm. It’s a measurement of body fat based on height and weight and can be used to indicate if you are overweight, obese, underweight or normal. A healthy BMI score is between 20 and 25. A score below 20 indicates that you may be underweight; a value above 25 indicates that you may be overweight.

Not Drinking too much Alcohol

For women this means < 1/2-1 drink per day, and for men it’s <1-2 drinks/day. Consuming alcohol at these levels may have some health benefits. But keep in mind that alcohol is also a carcinogen. So the conventional wisdom is NOT to start drinking alcohol if it’s not part of your regular routine. But if you do, moderation is the key.

Not Smoking

This is the single most important risk factor.

Other Risk Factors

There are many other risk factors that influence your Healthspan. But we don’t have significant controlled studies to definitively say how much they correlate to your Healthspan over time. Other risk factors include falls, COPD, Alzheimer’s/ Neurologic Disease, Sleep Habits, Stress Management, Mental Health, Family & Social Support & Socio-Economic Factors.

Lifestyle & Health Habits

80% of Cardiovascular disease and 90% of type 2 Diabetes is attributable to these lifestyle factors (Health Eating, Activity Level, BMI, Alcohol & Smoking). It’s incredible to realize that we have control of these diseases by changing our lifestyle health habits!

Cancer is not as Clear-Cut

Obesity is linked to a higher risk of several major cancers. But the effects of diet & physical activity on cancer are more subtle than they are on type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Healthy Habits in Combination

The take-home message here – a significant finding of Hu’s study – is that if you have 4 or 5 of these healthy habits, then you are 3 times more likely to be alive at the end of your Healthspan. That’s true even if you have cardiovascular disease, diabetes or cancer. Lifestyle habits may not only delay the onset of many diseases, but may also improve the survival of people who have them.

Healthspan = Quality of Life

As a physical therapist and human movement specialist, helping our clients achieve the best quality of movement and function is always a focus. Now we have more evidence to support the lifestyle changes necessary to achieve your best Healthspan. Living longer is a goal, but living longer with a high quality of life and activity level is the key.

Activity and exercise are a keystone for implementing these 5 healthy habits. Healthy eating, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy weight, not drinking too much alcohol and not smoking. All of this sounds reasonable and achievable. And with support from your physical therapist, your primary care physician, your family, friends and co-workers, you can do it!

My best to you as you Move For Health,

Dr. Darcy