How To Be Healthy: 4 Behaviors Critical To 'Successful' Aging

Concerned with how to be healthy now, into the new year and beyond? A combination of four healthy behaviors in middle age such as drinking moderately and never smoking can help you age successfully and enjoy a higher quality of life, according to a new study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Dr. Séverine Sabia and her colleagues from England's University College of London equated successful aging with good physical and mental health as well as with a lack of disability associated with chronic diseases. Their study looked at the habits of 5,100 men and women. These participants were first questioned when they were between the ages of 35 and 55 in 1985 to 1988, and then again during a follow-up study in 2008 and 2009 when most of the participants were at least 60 years old. When the study began, the participants were all free of cancer, stroke and heart disease.

The participants were asked about four healthy habits:

  1. Not smoking.
  2. Moderate alcohol consumption of one to 14 units a week for women and one to 21 units a week for men.
  3. Physical activity (at least 2.5 hours a week of moderately intense physical activity or one hour or more of very intense physical activity a week).
  4. Eating fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.

Researchers compared the participants who said they observed the above healthy habits with those who said they didn't. The ones who followed all four behaviors had 3.3 times higher odds of successfully aging, Sabia and the other researchers reported. When it came to specific behaviors, those who had never smoked were 1.3 times more likely to meet the successful aging criteria than their counterparts who smoked or were former smokers; those who drank moderate amounts of alcohol were 1.31 times more likely to age successfully than those who drank none or who drank heavily.

How to be healthy and age successfully also includes being physically active and eating fruits and vegetables every day. These healthy habits raised the odds of successful aging by 1.45 and 1.35 respectively, compared with those who participated in neither of these behaviors, the study found.

"Our results should motivate lifestyle changes that not only reduce mortality and morbidity, but also improve quality of life at older ages," Sabia said in a released statement.

Perhaps most importantly, following more than one these behaviors is how to be healthy, boosting the chances of living longer without disease.

"Although individual healthy behaviors are moderately associated with successful aging, their combined impact is quite substantial," the study's authors concluded.