Can Five Healthy Habits Add 12-14 Years to Your Life? “Who is Mr. Dawes?”

Joseph R. Anticaglia MD
Medical Advisory Board

The CIA’s World Factbook lists the United States 43rd in global life expectancy. This unacceptable ranking occurs in spite of the fact that Americans outspend other rich countries by more than two times on health care.

Is there something Americans can do to live years longer and spend less money on health care? Amazingly, the answer is “yes!”

An article published in the medical journal, Circulation, concluded that people over the age of 50 could dramatically extend their life expectancy by double-digits if they adopted a healthy lifestyle.

The authors analyzed 34 years of data from the Nurses’ Health Study of almost 79,000 thousand women and 27 years of data from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study of approximately 44,000 men.

They reported that men could live 12 years longer and women 14 years longer, if they incorporated into their lives five healthy habits. These are jaw-dropping results!

The impressive findings of the study demonstrated that if you followed the suggested healthiest lifestyle you were much less likely to die from cardiovascular disease (82% less likely) and much less likely (65%) to die from cancer.

Before naming the five habits, let’s take a short detour about Mr. Dawes.

Many in the U.S. are familiar with the story and midnight ride of Paul Revere. But who is William Dawes? He rode with Revere in 1775 to alert the colonial Minutemen and others that the British were advancing on Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. It was a wakeup call that saved many lives.

For our purposes, one can use Dawes’ name as a mnemonic to remind us of the 5 healthy habits and avoid premature death.

Five Healthy Habits

  • D Diet A Healthy diet increases your chances to live longer.
  • A Alcohol Drink in moderation
  • W Weight Keep your weight within a normal range
  • E Exercise Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle
  • S Smoking Do not smoke

So you say, “I’ve heard this before, it’s old news.” Just a moment, please.

What Lanping Li, the lead author of this noteworthy study and his co-workers document that if you’re a man and expect to live to be 79 years of age, by following the five habits you can add 12 years to your life. Kindly do the math. If you’re a woman, add 14 years to the expected life expectancy.

What follows is information that many are familiar with but only a few consistently put into practice.

  • Incorporate into your diet one that’s low in saturated fats, red meat, sugars but high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation — one 5 ounce glass of wine for women and up to two glasses of wine for men a day. A 5 ounce glass of wine is approximately equivalent to 1.5 ounces of whiskey or 12 ounces of beer.
  • To monitor your weight, the authors suggest using the Body Mass Index. Another way of watchdogging your weight is to use the waist–to-height ratio (WHtR).

    One measures the waist circumference in inches divided by the height in inches. For example, if a man’s waist is 36 inches and he’s 72 inches tall (6 ft.), his WHtR is 0 .50.

    An acceptable range of WRtR for men is o.43 to 0.52. For women, the range is o.42 to 0.48. Another useful measure is the waist to hip ratio which was discussed in a previous post.

  • Exercise 30 minutes or more at least 5 days a week of moderate to vigorous intensity. Incorporate strength training into your exercise routine.
  • Do not smoke. Yes, you’ve heard it many times. It causes cancer, cardiovascular disease and other problems. Don’t give up trying to stop smoking if you failed the first, second or more times. Talk to someone who has quit smoking.

The American Cancer Society estimates 609,640 Americans will die of cancer in 2018.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention calculates about 610,000 people in the U.S. die every year due to heart disease.

The study in Circulation targets these two leading causes of death in the United States and offers a straight forward approach to combat these diseases.

It’s hard to break old habits with healthy ones that become a vital part of our daily life. The article in Circulation is a roadmap on how to add years to our lives. Who knows, Mr. Dawes may be sounding a wakeup call for us?


Yanping Li et al; Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancy in the US Population; Circulation, April 30 2018

Nurses Health Study; Investigations into the Risk Factors for Major Chronic Diseases in Women

The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study; Investigations into the Risk Factors for Major Chronic Diseases in Men

Central Intelligence Agency; The World Factbook

Joseph R. Anticaglia, MD; The Significance of Waist to Hip Ratio — Are You an Apple or a Pear? HC Smart, 2017

This article is intended solely as a learning experience. Please consult your physician for diagnostic and treatment options.