What if someone said they could give you some pointers that would be almost guaranteed to help you survive to an older age? Would you expect that person to be hailed as the latest health guru, be given interviews on Oprah or show up at the local Borders hawking the latest health book? This sort of information seems to become more and more relevant the older I get; in my immortal 20s, I couldn’t have cared less.
We are inundated with health care information, ranging from the practical (i.e., wear seat belts), to the contradictory (alcohol will kill you/alcohol prevents heart disease; vitamin supplements are good/supplements are worthless, maybe harmful), to the bizarre (wheatgrass diets, colonics). Many medical studies are quoted in the media urging us to make changes in our lifestyles in order to achieve better health and/or longevity.
There was a study—yes, another study—done in 1965 in Alameda County, California. The findings of this study have stood the test of time. Researchers Nadia Belloc and Lester Breslow looked at the lifestyles of 7,000 residents who were asked to respond to a 23-page questionnaire, asking about their lifestyle choices and personal habits. The habits of those who survived a particular five and a half year period were compared to those who had died during the same time. Would you guess that those who did not die during this period were blessed with, say, great physical condition, or high socioeconomic status, or parents who were long-lived or perhaps just better luck? If you did, you’d be wrong.
Instead it was found that there were seven fairly simple lifestyle habits that were associated with longer life. Here they are:
1. Eat breakfast almost every day
2. Maintain normal weight
3. Don’t eat between meals
4. Practice regular physical activity (meaning almost daily)
5. Sleep 7-8 hours each night
6. Have no more than 2 alcoholic drinks per day
7. Never smoke cigarettes
Admittedly, this is a rather unglamorous list, certainly not the kind of information to land a researcher on the talk shows, but more like what you might hear your parents or teachers tell you. However, the researchers found that a 45-year-old man who followed six or seven of these habits would usually live 11 years longer that a man who followed only two or three. He may or may not have lived to see his children marry, to travel with his wife, to pursue his interests and hobbies, to love and nurture his grandchildren or great grandchildren … all depending on his habits.
Overall health was also improved by adhering to these habits. The reseachers found that a woman as old as 64 who followed all seven habits was as healthy as a 25-year-old woman who followed only two. Said another way, failing to follow these simple habits could prematurely age a woman in her twenties, healthwise, to the point that she resembles a woman in her mid-sixties. A 30-year-old who neglected these habits compared in health to a 70-year-ld who followed them.
We can choose to accelerate or slow down the aging process by following these simple health habits. They are accessible to any one, you don’t need a personal trainer, and they are inexpensive. In fact, they could even save you money that could otherwise spend on food, booze and cigarettes.