We tend to think of longevity as primarily genetic. If your parents live a long and healthy life, chances are you will, too. Research shows, however, that genetics has less to do with life expectancy than we often think, and many factors that influence longevity remain well within our control. In fact, among the factors that impact life expectancy, lifestyle is the largest, while genetics account for only 25 percent.
If you’re wondering how you can live a longer, healthier life, take a look at the following healthy habits. Some of them are very easy to adopt, and research shows they can add as much as a decade to your life.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese can reduce life expectancy dramatically. One study found that being overweight shortened life expectancy by 3.3 years for nonsmoking women and 3.1 years for nonsmoking men.
Obesity, defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, has profound health consequences. Obesity can decrease life expectancy by 7.1 years for nonsmoking women and 5.8 years for nonsmoking men.
Together, being overweight and smoking represent two of the most detrimental lifestyle factors and can reduce life expectancy by as much as 13.7 years.
If you’re overweight, take steps now to lose the extra weight and get your health on track. Regular physical activity remains vital, but that doesn’t have to mean going for a run or hitting the gym. Find ways to add more movement into your daily routine, such as taking long daily walks. Remember also that everybody is different, and what works for someone else may not work for you. Talk to your doctor if you need help finding the correct diet.
If you smoke, commit to quitting. Even secondhand smoke can be detrimental to your health. Get help quitting if necessary, and avoid environments where you could expose yourself to secondhand smoke.
Limit Alcohol Intake
While some alcohol intake can be a part of a healthy lifestyle, research overwhelmingly suggests that drinking in moderation remains critical. Daily drinking is associated with an increased risk of cancer and death from all causes. If you drink, limit your drinking to 2 or 3 times per week.
Take Good Care of Your Teeth
Dental health is linked to overall health in several ways. Gum disease increases the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.
Tooth loss and poor oral function can reduce life expectancy as well. People with fewer teeth or dentures often experience reduced bite force. They may struggle to chew food properly, leading them to avoid nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, and meat. A 2020 study from Japan found that decreased oral function is associated with a higher risk of malnutrition and loss of muscle mass, which increases the risk of death from all causes among older adults.
To protect your teeth, brush at least twice daily and floss at least once daily. Keep regular appointments with your dentist to identify and treat any signs of oral health issues before they turn into bigger problems. If you lose a tooth, consider replacing it with a dental implant to help maintain the integrity of your jawbone and prevent the loss of bite force.
Get Enough Vitamin B12
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient that helps protect the brain and may help guard against cognitive decline. The ability to absorb vitamin B12 from food decreases with age, and deficiencies are common among older adults. Primarily found in animal products such as meat, cheese, and eggs, B12 deficiencies also remain common in vegetarians. Consider taking a B12 supplement if necessary.
Eat More Olives
Olives are a great source of healthy unsaturated fats and are rich in antioxidants that help protect the heart and the brain. Eating olives has been shown to increase levels of glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps maintain the immune system and protect against age-related diseases.
It’s never too late to take better care of your health. Exercising regularly, managing your weight, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking can help you not only increase your lifespan but also reduce your risk of experiencing chronic health issues as you age.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.