Expert Doctors: Making This Lifestyle Change Could Add 20 Years to Your Lifespan

Updated: Feb. 28, 2024

A team of researchers says this is the first study that "has evaluated all factors combined in relation to life expectancy."

We’d all be living our best life if we could, right? Buying organic, studying nutrition labels, getting those 10K steps in a day (good news—that many steps may not be necessary, according to recent research), meditating, and getting nine hours of sleep: What American with any grownup responsibilities can check every box?

If it would be easier to narrow in on the aspects of your health that might actually yield additional years to your life, a new study suggests that to truly maximize your lifespan, you’ll need to focus on eight distinct behaviors. 

Published in the January 2024 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study evaluated the impact of eight factors on longevity among over 275,000 veterans, drawing data from The Department of Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program. This larger initiative collects health metrics and behaviors and examines disease effects within the veteran population over time.

The eight lifestyle factors stem from the concept of “lifestyle medicine,” which emphasizes making healthy changes to prevent chronic diseases rather than treating them reactively. The habits the researchers identified as being the most longevity-promoting included:

  • healthy eating
  • stress management
  • adequate exercise
  • healthy sleep patterns
  • improving social connections
  • steering clear of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and opioid use.

Mid adult man meditating in yoga class10'000 Hours/Getty Images

The findings revealed that while adopting a few of these habits could extend life, embracing all eight proved even more beneficial, with their effects compounding.

More specifically, the research suggests individuals prioritizing all eight could anticipate outliving those adopting none by an average of 20 years when starting at age 40. The study found that men and women adhering to all eight could foresee living well into their eighties, while those neglecting them were projected to reach their mid-sixties. Each adopted lifestyle factor translated into several additional hypothetical years of life, so even those focusing on four or five could expect a decade or more added to their lifespan.

And for folks incorporating all eight factors at age 50, life expectancy increased by 18 to 20 years. By age 60, this increase amounted to 16 to 18 extra years of life.

The researchers say these findings are so noteworthy because, “To our knowledge, no study has evaluated all factors combined in relation to life expectancy.”

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While ideally prioritizing all eight metrics is recommended, focusing on just a few of these healthy changes can yield significant benefits. Increasing exercise, quitting smoking, and embracing a healthy diet, predominantly composed of plant-based and whole foods, were identified as having the greatest impact on longevity.

If the prospect of improving all eight aspects seems daunting, remember that even small changes now can yield substantial benefits later on. The researchers concluded: “The continuous and graded prolonged life expectancy associated with an increasing number of low-risk lifestyle factors suggests that any improvement in lifestyle toward adopting low-risk factors would result in certain benefits, and the more intensive, the better.”