You are one of over 7 billion humans on planet Earth—the average of whom will live to be 70 years old.
For many of us, this number seems frighteningly close.
What if I told you that by doing four simple things, you could buy an extra 14 years of life?
That’s an extra 5,110 days.
What would you do with that time?
Spend it with people you love? Work on that passion project you’ve been dreaming about? Travel around the world?
The truth is, us humans don’t set ourselves up for long, healthy lives, despite a seemingly enormous evolutionary advantage—our amazing ability to reason and think.
We have access to more information than any other generation in history—yet nearly 70 percent of people in the United States are overweight or obese.
Whether you chalk it up to misinformation, genetic predispositions for obesity, socioeconomic factors, negligent food marketing practices, or just plain laziness, there’s one thing we can all agree upon:
There’s a heck of a lot of room for improvement.
The Science of Living Longer
In a 2007 study, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council in England tracked 20,244 healthy men and women, ages 45 to 79, for 11 years and recorded deaths from all causes among the participants. After taking age, sex, body mass, and social class into account, they found that certain people were four times less likely to die prematurely—an advantage equivalent to living 14 years longer.
These were the four behaviors that had the biggest impact on a longer, healthier life. They shouldn’t come as a surprise.
1. Eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Your mom always told you to eat your vegetables. Turns out momma was right. It’s no secret eating plants is good for your health. But the Cambridge study showed that five daily servings of fruits and veggies can actually add years to your life.
2. Drink moderately.
I love a good bourbon, tequila, beer, or glass of wine. If you do too, here’s the good news: drinking in moderation can actually help you live longer. One study that tracked 1,824 adults found that people who abstained from alcohol had a higher risk of dying than those who drank moderately. The bad news: heavy drinkers had a 70 percent greater risk of dying compared to moderate drinkers. So enjoy a drink or two … just don’t overdo it.
3. Don’t smoke.
I know from experience how hard it can be to quit smoking. But every day you smoke takes 5 hours off your life, according to a study published in the British Medical Journal. That means every year you smoke, you’re giving up 76 days of your life. Expect to live about 10 years less if you’re a smoker. Is that really worth it?
4. Get some kind of physical activity every day.
Only one out of five people gets enough exercise. But decreasing the amount of time you spend sitting and watching TV can increase your life expectancy by two years. The most common reasons I hear from people who don’t exercise is 1.) It’s inconvenient or 2.) I don’t have the time.
My advice: start small and set a goal of developing an exercise habit. Commit to just 5 minutes a day, every day. Go for a walk or run or do some bodyweight exercises at home if you’re too self-conscious to take an exercise class. The goal here is to create the habit of exercising so it becomes second nature.
Doing these four things consistently takes practice and repetition. But once you develop healthy habits, it’s easy.
Time is the most valuable currency in the world. You never know when yours will be up—but consider yourself pretty darn lucky that you have the opportunity to add more years starting right now by doing four simple things.
If you don’t want to do it for yourself, remember this: it’s not all about you. Do it for the people who love you and wouldn’t mind having you around a bit longer.