Want to live 20 years longer? Study finds 8 habits that can lengthen your life.

Two older men wearing veterans' baseball caps, one for Vietnam and one for Korea, chatting congenially.
Has the longevity code been cracked? A new study lays out key behaviors for lengthening life. (Photo: Illustration by Aisha Yousaf; Photo: Getty Images)

Living a long, healthy life is the goal for many people, but research is still uncovering exactly how to do just that. A large new study has singled out eight behaviors linked to longevity, and they're all surprisingly doable. Even better? The researchers found that adopting these habits at any time can help improve longevity — and the quality of your life.

What the study says

The study, which was presented at the American Society for Nutrition's Nutrition 2023 conference, found that people who adopt eight healthy lifestyle habits by middle age can expect to live longer than those who have few or none of these habits.

What are the key findings?

The study analyzed lifestyle and mortality data from more than 700,000 U.S. veterans between the ages of 40 and 99 who enrolled in the MillionVeteran Program (MVP) between 2011 and 2019. The researchers found that the following habits were linked to a substantially longer life:

  • Being physically active

  • Being free from opioid addiction

  • Not smoking

  • Managing stress

  • Having a good diet

  • Not regularly binge drinking

  • Having good sleep hygiene

  • Having positive social relationships

The researchers discovered that men who have adopted all eight habits by age 40 are predicted to live an average of 24 years longer than men who have none of those habits. Women who have all of those habits will live a predicted 21 years longer than women with none of the habits, according to the findings.

What experts think

It's important to note that the study didn't prove that these behaviors caused people to live longer lives — it simply found that they were associated with longevity. Still, experts say that this is probably significant.

The eight lifestyle factors noted out in the study aren't necessarily revolutionary, and the researchers don't claim that they are. "These habits are lifestyle factors that have been associated with reduced mortality risk in the literature," one of the study's co-authors, Xuan-Mai T. Nguyen, a health science specialist at the Department of Veterans Affairs and a rising fourth-year medical student at Carle Illinois College of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. "The novelty of our study is having the statistical power to examine the interaction of all eight lifestyle factors in a single group of people."

The findings are "consistent with the body of evidence demonstrating that healthy habits lead to improved quality of life, and typically, longer life and with fewer chronic medical conditions," Dr. Thomas Boyden, Corewell Health medical director for preventive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation, tells Yahoo Life. The eight behaviors are "the cornerstone of guideline-based care for the majority of chronic medical conditions," including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, excess weight, heart disease and anxiety and depression, he says.

"The study findings reinforce a lot of the things that we know to be true about healthy longevity," Dr. Scott Kaiser, a board-certified geriatrician and director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.

Kaiser says that these eight behaviors do two main things: They help people avoid early death and enjoy healthier years. "Many of these factors will help us enjoy greater health, even in the face of chronic disease," he says.

The findings also "reinforce that, when it comes to healthy aging, exercise is the closest thing we have to a miracle drug," Kaiser says, adding that "this further supports the importance of exercise across our lifespan."

Kaiser says it also stresses the importance of being social. "Relationships really matter," he says. "Social connection is an important part of health and well-being."

Why it matters

The findings underscore how much lifestyle matters for health, according to Boyden. "Unlike healthy habits, medical treatments and procedures address the symptoms and complications of chronic disease states, but they do not prevent or reverse these conditions," he says. "While none of us know how long we might live, the key to a long healthy life is a focus on healthy lifestyle habits. There truly is no substitute for clean living."

The study also shows that people can make changes now to help improve their quality of life and the odds they'll live longer, Nguyen says. "It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle," she says.

Kaiser agrees. "The greatest benefit was found in people who had these eight habits from their 40s, but benefits were still found in people who started making these changes later," he says. "It's never too soon to start thinking about healthy aging, and it's never too late."