The secret to a long and healthy life does not seem to lie solely in the genes. Lifestyle factors that can be influenced also play a role. US researchers have now identified eight such factors that apparently allow you to live over 20 years longer.

Gymnast Johanna Quaas took part in a competition at the age of 91, Max Planck researcher Thomas Jovin was still in the laboratory every day at the age of over 80 and the Rolling Stones – average age of 79 – are touring again this year the world. What keeps some people so fit?

The good news: Apparently it’s not just the genes. In a large-scale study, researchers from the USA have identified eight influenceable lifestyle factors that enable men and women to live more than 20 years longer – even if they only start a healthy lifestyle in midlife.

The background is that certain lifestyle factors play a role in the development of chronic diseases that increase the risk of mortality. The researchers write in their study, which was published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” that

can be traced back to failure to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For comparison: According to the Federal Statistical Office, 360,000 people die each year from cardiovascular diseases and 230,000 from cancer in Germany. These are considered to be the two most common causes of death in this country.

The researchers’ thesis: If a healthy lifestyle is fulfilled, we should also live longer. For their study, the team led by scientists Xuan-Mai T. Nguyen and Yanping Li from Harvard Medical School evaluated data from over 700,000 men and women from the “Veterans Affairs Million Veteran Program” over a period of eight years. 33,375 of them died during the follow-up period.

The result:

Low physical activity, opioid consumption and smoking had the greatest negative impact on life expectancy. These factors were associated with an approximately 30 to 45 percent higher risk of death during the study period. Stress, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and poor sleep hygiene have each been linked to an increased risk of death by about 20 percent. And a lack of positive social relationships with a five percent increased risk of death.

“We were really surprised by how much you can achieve by adopting one, two, three or all eight habits as a lifestyle,” said scientist Nguyen in an accompanying statement. “The earlier the better, but even if you make just one small change in your 40s, 50s or 60s, it’s still beneficial.”

The life of a 50-year-old man is extended by 21.3 years; in 50-year-old women around 18.9. And even at 60, 70, 80 or even 90, it’s worth starting over, even if the effects become smaller and smaller. Researcher Yanping Li’s conclusion: “It’s never too late to choose a healthy lifestyle.”

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