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Published on July 30, 2019

5 ways to live longer

Elderly Exercise

What’s the secret to a healthy life? A recent Harvard study identified five factors that could add more than a decade to your life.

Brian Reagan, MD, a specialist in internal medicine who practices at the Oppenheim Medical Building in Chatham and the Fontaine Outpatient Center in Harwich, knows the importance of the five steps. But even he was surprised at their combined impact, as outlined in the new research.

“The impact of these factors added up to be even more significant than I thought it would be,” he said.

Dr. Reagan weighed in on the five risk-lowering factors:

  1. Avoid smoking – “That's kind of a no-brainer on the list. There’s endless evidence showing the dangers of smoking.”
  2. Maintain a healthy weight – “The Harvard study recommends a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9, but I think that’s really aggressive. If patients are overweight, I talk to them about getting their BMI below 30, with an eventual goal of just under 25.”
  3. Exercise regularly– “We talk about that with all our patients. I tend to see more elderly patients, so I have to be careful to talk about what moderate to vigorous physical activity means. Some people are limited by arthritic conditions or other physical conditions, but exercise is still important. Thirty minutes a day is a good goal.”
  4. Consume moderate amounts of alcohol – “The study defines low risk as one-half to one drink per day for women and one-half to two drinks per day for men.”
  5. Maintain an overall healthy diet – The study recommends a diet that’s high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fatty acids and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, and low in red meat, processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat and sodium.

“We used to advocate the Mediterranean diet, but that's higher in fat, so the NASH diet would be a little more in compliance with what this study’s talking about.”

The study was published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation. Researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health analyzed data on more than 100,000 people, who were followed for up to 34 years. It found that following the five steps could extend life by 12 years for men and 14 years for women. That could be the difference between a man living to 87 instead of 75 and a woman living to 93 instead of 79.

“That’s a lot of extra years with your grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” Dr. Reagan said.

If you need to make a lot of changes to lower your risks, focus on incremental steps, he said. “If you're starting from zero, 30 minutes a day of exercise might seem like too much. Ten is better than zero, and 20 is better than 10.”

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