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Harvard researchers say these habits can keep you healthy longer

A jogger ran on the wall of the Boston Harborwalk near the New England Aquarium.
A jogger ran on the wall of the Boston Harborwalk near the New England Aquarium.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Got room for another New Year’s resolution? How about several? Harvard researchers say these five habits will not only make you live longer, they’ll keep you healthy longer.

■ Not smoking

■ Eating a healthy diet

■ Regularly exercising

■ Keeping a healthy body weight

■ Moderate alcohol consumption

A new study, led by the T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests that maintaining this group of healthy habits at middle-age may significantly increase the number of years people live free of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

The study was published online Wednesday in the British Medical Journal. It’s a followup of a study in 2018 in the journal Circulation that found that following the five healthy habits increased overall life expectancy.

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The new study found that women who had four or five of the healthy habits at age 50 lived an average of 34.4 more years free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, compared with 23.7 healthy years among women who had none of the habits. Men who had four of the five healthy habits at age 50 lived 31.1 healthy years, compared with 23.5 years among men who had none.

“Adherence to a healthy lifestyle at mid-life is associated with a longer life expectancy free of major chronic diseases,” the study concluded.

The 2018 Circulation study had found that the five habits could extend total life expectancy for the average person who is 50 years old by 12 years for men and 14 years for women.

“Previous studies have found that following a healthy lifestyle improves overall life expectancy and reduces risk of chronic diseases ... but few studies have looked at the effects of lifestyle factors on life expectancy free from such diseases,” first author Yanping Li, senior research scientist in the Chan School’s Department of Nutrition, said in a statement from the university. The new study “provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.”

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“Given the high cost of chronic disease treatment, public policies to promote a healthy lifestyle by improving food and physical environments would help to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life,” said senior author Professor Frank Hu, chairman of the Department of Nutrition.

The study looked at 34 years of data from 73,196 women and 28 years of data from 38,366 men participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, respectively.

Researchers defined a healthy diet as a high score on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index; regular exercise as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity; healthy weight as a body mass index of 18.5-24.9; and moderate alcohol intake as up to one serving per day for women and up to two for men.



Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com