Although life expectancy growth keeps people alive longer than ever before in history in almost every region of earth, there is one specific country where, despite the fact that it spends more on healthcare as a proportion of GDP than any other nation, their citizens struggle, literally, to keep up with its neighbouring western countries. Yes, we are talking about the US of America and yes, we are talking about life habits.
In fact, Americans have a shorter life expectancy compared with residents of almost all other high-income countries, ranking 31st in the world for life expectancy at birth. According to the World Health Organization, life expectancy at birth in 2015 was 76.9 and 81.6 years old for US men and women respectively, while the figures rise up for Britain at a higher 79.4 for men and 83 years old for women and far from Japan’s 83 years old overall.
Seeking answers to this anomaly is what took researchers at Harvard University to start a new study published recently in the journal Circulation.
They used lifestyle questionnaires and medical records from 123,000 volunteers to understand how bad habits such as smoking, alcohol or sedentary lifestyle, could actually sharp (and modify) the life expectancy in the country.
But instead on focusing on bad habits and their influence in life expectancy, researchers took the other way around and conducted a study on how much longer people lived if they followed a healthy diet, controlled their weight, took regular exercise, drank in moderation and did not smoke. A kind of 5-step mantra for having a healthy life.
The five healthy habits were defined as:
having a body mass index between 18.5 and 25;
taking at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day,
having no more than one 150ml glass of wine a day for women, or two for men;
and having a diet rich in items such as fruit, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat, saturated fats and sugar.
When the scientists calculated average life expectancy, they noticed a dramatic effect from the healthy habits. Compared with people who adopted none of them, men and women who adhered to all five saw their life expectancy at 50 rise from 26 to 38 years and 29 to 43 years respectively, or an extra 12 years for men and 14 for women.
Technically, what they found is that if a 50-year-old woman adopts all these healthy habits, she can expect to live for another 43 years. If she does none of them, however, she will likely only live for another 29 years. For 50-year-old men, the healthy habits could add 38 years, compared to 26 if none are adopted.
“This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the U.S. population,” said Frank Hu to the Independent, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School and senior author of the study.
Researchers also warned in the study that poor lifestyle is a major factor that cuts American lives short. Only 8% of the general population followed all five healthy habits. The research focused on the US population, but the findings can be applied to the UK and much of the western world.
Men and women who had such healthy lives were 82% less likely to die of heart disease and 65% less likely to die of cancer compared with those with the least healthy lifestyles, over the roughly 30 years of the study.
Given that the habits of a healthy lifestyle are well known, the mystery is why we are so bad at adopting them, continued Frank Hu. Part of the problem is that many people struggle to give up smoking, and the continuous peddling of unhealthy food, as well as poor urban planning, which can make it hard for people to exercise, also feed in, he said.
Hernaldo Turrillo is a freelance journalist working now for IntelligentHQ. Hernaldo was born in Spain and finally settled in London, United Kingdom, after a few years of personal growth. Hernaldo finished his Journalism bachelor degree in the University of Seville, Spain, and began working as reporter in the newspaper, Europa Sur, writing about Politics and Society. He also worked as community manager and marketing advisor in Los Barrios, Spain. Innovation, technology, politics and economy are his main interests, with special focus on new trends and ethical projects. He enjoys finding himself getting lost in words, explaining what he understands from the world and helping others. He was born journalist and became a thinker. Knowledge has no limits.