Thinking about healthy habits is not a high priority for most people on Halloween, but maybe you’ve told yourself that once all the candy is gone you’ll commit yourself to a healthier lifestyle.
If that’s the case, an article in today’s New York Times (originally published in May) by Nicholas Bakalar, may be just what you are looking for.
The article shared the results of a research study which analyzed two large databases with 34 years of detailed health and lifestyle information on more than 123,000 men and women.
The study looked at five behaviors: eating a healthy diet, not smoking, getting regular physical activity, moderate alcohol consumption and maintaining a normal weight.
The scientists calculated that, on average, a 50-year-old man who adopted all five behaviors would live 12 years longer than a man who took on none. A woman with the same five habits would live an average of 14 more years than a woman with none of them.
I don’t think many people would be surprised that those five behaviors would improve one’s health. What is surprising is that less than two percent of the people studied had all five low-risk factors, and a third had two or fewer.
Two percent seems incredibly low; I wish the story had shared what habit was the most difficult for people to adopt. My guess is that not smoking is the most prevalent of the good habits followed by moderate alcohol consumption. These first two are more about avoiding vices, which I think is easier to do.
The other three items are focused on embracing positive habits – healthy eating, regular physical activity, and maintaining a normal weight. I’m just guessing adopting these kinds of habits are harder for most people.
It’s not all or nothing. Even adopting some of the habits has a positive impact.
The more low-risk factors a person had, the longer his or her projected life span. For example, a 50-year-old woman with four healthy factors could expect to live, on average, to around 89, those with three to 87, and those with two to 84. Once again, I’d be curious if certain combinations offer more benefits than other combinations.
I’m also guessing there may be some people who may think that none of the habits are worth it. They may enjoy smoking and drinking and not be concerned with the other ones. They may decide that the extra years aren’t worth the sacrifice involved in trying to change their habits.
But now that there is data available to show the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices, the burden is on each of us what we want to do with such data.
Personally, I like the idea of adding a few years to my life, and I’m willing to do what it takes to get there.