4 Habits That Could Lengthen Your Life — Despite Your Genes

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A senior man does yoga.
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We can’t choose our genes, but at least we can choose our habits.

For a recent observational study published in BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, a journal of the British Medical Association, researchers analyzed health data of more than 350,000 adults who were tracked for nearly 13 years, on average.

The researchers say their findings suggest a healthy, or “favorable,” lifestyle can offset a person’s genetic predisposition to a short lifespan or premature death by around 62%.

They considered multiple genetic variants and then grouped participants into categories based on their genetic predisposition to a long, average or short lifespan.

They also evaluated participants’ lifestyles and categorized them as favorable (healthy), intermediate or unfavorable (unhealthy). A favorable lifestyle meant not currently smoking, drinking only a moderate amount of alcohol, getting regular exercise and adequate sleep, and maintaining a healthy body shape and diet.

Over the approximately 13-year tracking period, 24,239 participants died.

Participants who were genetically inclined to a shorter lifespan were 21% more likely to die early than participants genetically inclined to a long life, regardless of their lifestyle. But, the study links an unhealthy lifestyle to a 78% higher risk of premature death, no matter a person’s genetic predisposition.

Researchers noted four healthy lifestyle factors that seemed to be most influential:

  • Not smoking
  • Regular physical activity
  • Adequate nightly sleep
  • A healthy diet

They suggest that people with genes linked to a shorter lifespan could add nearly 5.5 years to their life expectancy if they adopted healthy habits by age 40. This is because lifestyle choices are often cemented before middle age. So, it’s better to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle before then, if possible.

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