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The United States is considered one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with one of the best healthcare systems. Despite this, data has shown its citizens have a shorter life expectancy than those of other wealthy counties. (1) (2) Data from 2015 showed the United States ranks 53rd in the world for life expectancy since birth. (3)

One reason proposed for the high health expenditures and low life expediencies of the United States population is the greater focus on drug discoveries and disease management compared to the prevention of this disease. The health problems, currently the primary cause of mortality and reduced lifespan include cardiovascular diseases, metabolic diseases, and cancer – even though they can be easily prevented. (4) A healthy lifestyle is proposed to be the key preventative approach against the majority of chronic diseases and a key to in-creased life expectancy in the population living in the United States. (5)

What is a Healthy Lifestyle?

An individual’s lifestyle can significantly affect their physical and mental well-being. While a healthy lifestyle can lead to an individual living a happy and long life, an unhealthy lifestyle is amongst the primary causes of deteriorating mental health and early mortality.

The four main factors which make up a healthy lifestyle include:
  • Having a balanced and healthy diet
  • Indulging in regular physical exercise
  • Avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking
  • Reducing alcohol intake to a minimum

Healthy Diet and Life Expectancy

The nutrition we intake in the form of food directly impacts our health. Every year, almost 11 million deaths all over the world are caused by diet-associated risk factors across the globe. (6) Numerous studies were conducted over the past few years to investigate the effects of nutrition and a healthy diet on the life expectancy.(7) (8)

What is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet is a balanced diet, which consists of a higher volume of food containing whole grains, legumes, and nuts and a lesser proportion of red meats or other forms of processed meat. Studies show that a diet such as this can effectively increase the life expectancy of an individual.(9) Based on macronutrients, most experts believe a balanced diet consists of 25% proteins, 25% fiber-rich carbohydrates, 40% fruits and vegetables, and only 10% fats.
What the Research Says
The impact of a healthy diet on the life expectancy of those consuming it has been investigated in detail in a recent study. The study aimed to assess how changes in the intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, eggs, milk, red meat, processed meats, and sugar may impact the population’s life expectancy. It was hypothesized that an ideal diet, which was higher in whole grains, fish, legumes, fruits, and vegetables and lower in red meat, sugar was more likely to increase one’s life expectancy.
The results of the study showed the 20 years old male participants from the United States who underwent a healthy dietary change had a 13 years increase in their life expectancy. The increase in life expectancy was not only limited to the younger population, but those around the age of 80 also had more than a three years increase in their life expectancy. Similarly to the males, the results of female participants were also positive. The increase in life expectancy after shifting to a healthy diet for 80-year-old and 20-year-old female participants was more than three and more than ten years, respectively. (10) This increased lifespan is caused by reducing the incidence of chronic health conditions like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Diabetes. (11)
Physical Activity And Life Expectancy
Regular physical activity is linked to a reduction in the incidence of chronic health conditions linked to early death. These include Diabetes, coronary artery disease, dyslipidemia, hypertension, cancer, and stroke. Studies conducted on individuals undergoing regular physical exercises showed an increase in life expectancy by 30 to 35%, compared to those individuals who lived a more sedentary lifestyle. Compared to physically inactive individuals, those living a healthy lifestyle have a 20 to 35% lower risk of early death.(12) Another study showed a 40% reduction in mortality in individuals with an active life-style, which corresponded to a five-year increase in life expectancy. (13)
Smoking And Life Expectancy
Unhealthy habits like smoking have often been investigated for their harmful effects on the body. Recent data shows smoking to be amongst the leading causes of preventable death in individuals in the United States. According to data from the American Heart Association, smoking kills at least 440,000 individuals in the United States every year. Hence, avoiding unhealthy habits like smoking is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Quitting smoking early has also been linked to an increase in life expectancy compared to regular smokers. Studies show that those males who quit smoking at an early age of 35 can add 6.9 to 8.5 years to their life. Similarly, females who quit smoking around an early age can add at least 6.1 to 7.7 years to their life span as well. (14)
Alcohol Consumption And Life Expectancy
Excessive intake of alcohol is linked to more than 350 deaths per day in the United States. Furthermore, data collected from 2015 to 2019 showed that excessive alcohol intake was responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the United States. Since then, several health campaigns have been introduced to educate the masses and give them more awareness regarding healthy drinking.
One study investigating the effects of alcohol consumption on the life expectancy of individuals showed the two to have an inverse relationship. Individuals who consumed between half to one and a half glasses of alcohol daily had the highest probability of completing 90 years of their life. On the other hand, those who consumed more than15 grams of alcohol per day had a reduced life expectancy and a lower probability of reaching 90 years. (15)
The Bottom Line
Individuals following a healthy lifestyle – such as consuming a balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, and reducing smoking, are more likely to live longer than those who do not.
  1. National Research Council, & Committee on Population. (2013). US health in international perspective: Shorter lives, poorer health.
  2. Kontis, V., Bennett, J. E., Mathers, C. D., Li, G., Foreman, K., & Ezzati, M. (2017). Future life expectancy in 35 industrialised countries: projections with a Bayesian model ensemble. Lancet (London, England), 389(10076), 1323–1335.
  3. World Health Organization. (n.d.). Contact us. Retrieved September 30, 2022, from
  4. Behrens, Gundula et al. “Healthy lifestyle behaviors and decreased risk of mortality in a large prospective study of U.S. women and men.” European journal of epidemiology vol. 28,5 (2013): 361-72. doi:10.1007/s10654-013-9796-9
  5. Li, Y., Pan, A., Wang, D. D., Liu, X., Dhana, K., Franco, O. H., Kaptoge, S., Di Angelantonio, E., Stampfer, M., Willett, W. C., & Hu, F. B. (2018). Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population. Circulation, 138(4), 345–355.
  6. GBD 2017 Diet Collaborators. “Health effects of dietary risks in 195 countries, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017.” Lancet (London, England) vol. 393,10184 (2019): 1958-1972. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30041-8
  7. Aune, Dagfinn et al. “Fruit and vegetable intake and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer and all-cause mortality-a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” International journal of epidemiology vol. 46,3 (2017): 1029-1056. doi:10.1093/ije/dyw319
  8. Zeraatkar, Dena et al. “Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk for All-Cause Mortality and Cardiometabolic Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies.” Annals of internal medicine vol. 171,10 (2019): 703-710. doi:10.7326/M19-0655
  9. Schwingshackl, Lukas et al. “Food groups and risk of all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies.” The American journal of clinical nutrition vol. 105,6 (2017): 1462-1473. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.153148
  10. Fadnes, Lars T et al. “Estimating impact of food choices on life expectancy: A modeling study.” PLoS medicine vol. 19,2 e1003889. 8 Feb. 2022, doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003889
  11. Aune, Dagfinn et al. “Whole grain consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all cause and cause specific mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 353 i2716. 14 Jun. 2016, doi:10.1136/bmj.i2716
  12. Samitz, Guenther et al. “Domains of physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies.” International journal of epidemiology vol. 40,5 (2011): 1382-400. doi:10.1093/ije/dyr112
  13. Farahmand, B et al. “Golf: a game of life and death–reduced mortality in Swedish golf players.” Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports vol. 19,3 (2009): 419-24. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2008.00814.x
  14. National Research Council (US) Panel on Understanding Divergent Trends in Longevity in High-Income Countries; Crimmins EM, Preston SH, Cohen B, editors. Explaining Divergent Levels of Longevity in High-Income Countries. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2011. 5, The Role of Smoking. Available from:
  15. van den Brandt, P. A., & Brandts, L. (2020). Alcohol consumption in later life and reaching longevity: the Netherlands Cohort Study. Age and ageing, 49(3), 395–402.

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