It’s safe to assume that most people want to have a good quality of life, free from illness; while how much or how hard we’re willing to work for that quality of life, that health varies, ideally, we would all like to enjoy it. This is why it is easy to spread misinformation about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to healthy living; often times, simple practices which have no bearing (or worse, negative effects) on well-being are touted to lure in potential customers or advocates, making it hard for those people trying to live the best they can.
Sometimes, even well-meaning information, that, based on research, is correct at the time, is later discovered to be less accurate than originally speculated. Our knowledge of health, fitness, and medicine is always evolving. However, some things tend to hold true; namely, the habits that are often evaluated and reverified in study after study can generally be taken as sound health advice for a higher quality of life, all other things being equal. Three of those things are being a nonsmoker, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting your consumption of alcohol Done right, they will add seven years to your life.
Ongoing research that has been published in Health Affairs verifies this. Their study consists of the tracking and surveying of around 14,000 Americans between the ages of 50 and 89. Every other year, the participants were interviewed regarding the lifestyle choices they were making. Overall, the results were rather clear.
In regards to weight, the study found a correlation between the participants who never entered the “obese” category in terms of body mass index (BMI) and an increased lifespan compared to the general population. This additional lifespan came to about four to five years. While there are some factors which can make a BMI misleading, generally, a ‘normal’ BMI is best, while, ‘underweight’, ‘obese’, and ‘overweight’ BMIs may lead to health complications.
The study also revealed some benefits to regulating alcohol intake. Ultimately, among women who had no more than seven drinks weekly, and men who had no more than 14 in the same period of time, life expectancy was said to increase by around seven years or so. For men, that means an average life expectancy of 76.3 years, compared to the 81.2 years that a woman can expect to live, assuming ideal conditions.
Keep in mind that life expectancy and quality of life are two separate things. It’s a matter of Quantity vs Quality. However, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to pick one or the other. You can have both, if you practice healthy living. A long life of poor quality is not very enjoyable, after all. If you want to not only live longer, but also enjoy a higher quality of life for that period of time, you need to develop good health habits, including regulating weight, alcohol consumption, and not smoking.
Despite the plethora of harmful effects it has on the body, a large percentage of Americans continue to smoke. This largely has to do with nicotine, the agent in cigarettes that makes them addictive. Nicotine causes changes in the brain that lead the body to crave more and more. Additional nicotine receptors are created, which is why the cravings come, and why withdrawal and quitting can be so difficult.
Smoking has ill effects on your cardiovascular health. It increases blood pressure by altering the consistency of your blood. It makes the blood thicker and stickier, which makes it more difficult to pump through the blood vessels. Furthermore, smoking causes cholesterol and other deposits to build up in the veins and arteries, which also contributes to the difficulty of circulating the blood. Ultimately, the heart has to work harder to do less work; so much difficulty moving the blood can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Smoking doesn’t just affect your heart and blood pressure. It also has adverse effects on your lungs. Specifically, the irritants in cigarette smoke can cause an immune response in the form of inflammation; this can make it difficult for the lungs to get the oxygen that they need. Constant smoking can also lead to the development of scar tissue, which permanently reduces the capacity and effectiveness of your lungs. This damage, if excessive, can lead to emphysema, a chronic cough, difficulty breathing, and other conditions.