Healthy living extends life — and by a lot

24 years for men, 21 years for women

Drinking, smoking, and sitting alone all day — a recipe for bad health, illustrated here by Charles Bukowski

What's the news: Healthy living extends life by 24 years for men, 21 years for women.

Why should we believe it: This news is based on research by scientists at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which was just announced at NUTRITION 2023, the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.

The scientists looked at the health records of over 700,000 US veterans. They found that 8 harmful lifestyle factors, individually and when combined, had major negative effects on life expectancy. In more detail:

  • Low physical activity, opioid use, and smoking were each associated with a 30%-45% higher risk of death during the study period

  • Stress, binge drinking, poor diet, and poor sleep hygiene were associated with a 20% increase in death

  • A lack of positive social relationships was associated with a 5% increase in death

Why this is a big deal: This was an observational study, which shows correlation rather than causation. However, there is little doubt that healthy living affects your health, and therefore your lifespan and youthspan. What's new here is just how significant that effect can be, and how confident we can be in it, based on the number of people under study.

So what specifically can you do now: In the words of Michael Jackson, “take a look at yourself, and make a change.” The effect of dropping any of the above eight unhealthy lifestyle factors grew slightly smaller with age, but remained significant. As one of the researchers in this study put it, "It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle."