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How to live longer: 5 things that could add a decade to your life

Here are the key factors that can influence your lifespan

A young man with a pencil behind his ear takes a large drink of water from a bottle
A young man with a pencil behind his ear takes a large drink of water from a bottle

According to 109-year-old Jessie Gallan, the secret to a long life is eating porridge and avoiding men. But, before you crack open a box of Uncle Toby’s oats and cease all contact with the men in your life, let’s take a look at some of the other variables that are scientifically proven to increase your chances of blowing out more than 100 candles.

Most people assume life expectancy is largely influenced by genetics, but genes might play a smaller role than initially thought. Instead, there are key environmental and lifestyle factors that can be much more influential.

A recent Harvard study analysed 34 years of data collected from more than 120,000 people and looked at the life expectancy of the participants who engaged in five low-risk lifestyle factors. The study concluded that when combined, the five factors could increase the average lifespan dramatically at more than 12 years for men and 14 years for women.

So, what are the five factors that could help us live longer?

1. Avoid smoking

It should come as no surprise that non-smokers tend to live longer, but the research has some good news for smokers too; it’s never too late to repair some, if not all, of the damage. Quitting or cutting back on cigarettes has been linked with positive outcomes relating to life expectancy.

A separate study found that smokers who quit at age 35, exceeded the lifespan of those who continued to smoke by an average of up to 8.5 years. So, if you need help or support with quitting, visit

Related: How I successfully quit: Three ex-smokers share their stories

2. Maintain a healthy weight

The study determined a low-risk weight as a Body Mass Index (BMI) in the range of 18.5 to 24.9. If you’re not sure what your BMI is, it’s calculated by dividing your weight by your height in metres squared. You can enter your details into the online calculator at the Australian Government’s Healthy Weight Guide to work out whether you’re currently in a healthy weight range.

If you need a bit of extra support to get in shape, check out our Health Management Programs, which are available at no additional cost for eligible nib members*.

A close-up of a woman snapping a cigarette in half

3. Exercise regularly

Regular exercise can reduce your risk of a heart attack, lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, help you manage your weight and positively impact your state of mind. And you don’t need an expensive gym membership to get started.

The Harvard researchers determined that walking for 30 minutes a day at a moderate or vigorous-intensity is enough to live longer. Any exercise is better than no exercise, so embrace your inner Kath Day-Knight and get power walking.

4. Consume moderate amounts of alcohol

According to Harvard, the definition of moderate drinking is a bit of a balancing act, as it sits at the point at which the health benefits of alcohol outweigh the risks. Moderate alcohol consumption in the study is defined as half a drink to one drink per day for women and half a drink to two drinks per day for men.

If you don’t drink, there’s no need to start. If you’re drinking more than the moderate amount outlined in the study and you’re looking to cut back, seek advice from your GP.

Related: 5 ways to reduce alcohol without losing your social life

Credit: nib health insurance

5. Maintain an overall healthy diet

Did you know the Greek island of Icaria is home to the largest percentage of 90-year-olds in the world? In addition to daily physical activity, researchers believe the unusually long lifespans can be attributed to the healthy Ikarian diet, which is nearly devoid of processed sugar, white flour and other refined foods and is high in whole grains, herbs, beans and locally-caught fish.

The Harvard study recommends a similar low-risk diet with a high intake of foods like fruit, veggies, nuts and whole grains, and a low intake of foods like red and processed meats, sugary drinks and sodium.

It’s important to keep in mind that the results from this specific study are averages. Putting the above five factors into practice won’t automatically extend your lifespan by a decade or more. In saying that, if you’re a non-smoker who exercises regularly, consumes a moderate amount of alcohol, maintains a healthy diet and is within a healthy weight range, you’re giving yourself the best chance of a long and healthy life.

The health foundations you build now will help you live a longer, happier and healthier life. The good news is that there are lots of simple everyday things that we can all do to stay on top of our health. We’ve put together a handy health check guide for every stage of life.

For more health, fitness and wellbeing tips, head to The Check Up’s dedicated Healthy Living section.

*Available to eligible nib members who’ve held Hospital Cover for 12 months and served their relevant waiting periods. Additional criteria vary according to each program.