It’s been said that “Life is choice. Choices have consequences. You can choose your choices, but you can’t choose your consequences. Choose wisely.”

Think about it—you choose when to get up in the morning. You choose whether to brush your teeth first or take a shower or eat breakfast. You choose what to eat for breakfast. You choose what clothes to wear for the day. What route to drive to work, where to work. You get the idea.

The point is, our life is created by what we choose to do each day. We might put it like this: We are the sum of our decisions.

Now, let’s just change the word “decisions” to “habits,” and it’s easy to see why our habits are so important. What we do on a regular basis affects nearly every aspect of our life—including our productivity, finances, relationships, self-esteem, and mental and physical health.

Most people agree that our nutrition and exercise choices help determine our overall health and wellness. But did you know that a recent study found that particular habits can add more than 20 additional years to your life?

The research, presented in July 2023 at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting, found that men who incorporated eight specific habits at age 40 were more likely to live an additional 24 years. Women who added the same eight practices to their lives at age 40 were likely to have an extra 21 years.

That’s amazing, isn’t it?

What are the eight healthy habits for a longer life?

We think it’s amazing! And even though we are very familiar with the subject of health and wellness, due to our many programs and initiatives in the local area with the Marion County Hospital District (MCHD)—don’t just take our word for it!

According to a recent article published by CNBC, the eight habits, listed in order, starting with the highest impact on lifespan, include:

  1. Exercising
  2. Not having an addiction to opioids
  3. Avoiding smoking
  4. Managing your stress levels
  5. Adhering to a healthy diet
  6. Not binge drinking
  7. Prioritizing good sleep
  8. Maintaining positive social relationships

Check this out: The study goes on to reveal that “adding only one of the habits to their routine seemed to provide 4.5 or 3.5 more years of life for men and women, respectively. Just two of the behaviors added 7 more years of life for men and 8 extra years for women.”

How many days in a row do you have to do something for it to become a habit?

Okay, so we want to build a new habit in our life? How long will it take? The time required is different for different people, and age plays a factor too. But most research shows that it takes a little over two months on average for a new behavior to become automatic.

There are some things you can do to help yourself hang in there long enough for a behavior to become a habit. Here are just a few suggestions:

Make small changes. Don’t try to tackle all 8 items on the list at once. Pick one, and work on it until it’s a habit. This will increase your confidence and mental outlook about forming habits (as in—yes, you CAN create new habits!), and it will also make you that much healthier so that the second item you address won’t seem as challenging as the first.

Be mentally prepared for obstacles. Look, it didn’t take only one day to get where you are healthwise, and your health isn’t going to radically change in a single day either. If it’s taken years to reach your current stress levels, don’t expect to eradicate all stress from your life in a week. Approaching change with this mindset will help you persist and not toss in the towel when you don’t see immediate results.

Share the journey with a friend. Support is crucial to making and maintaining healthy habits. If you want to stop smoking (#3 on the list), it’s going to be super challenging if you hang around with smokers all the time. Find someone who either wants to travel this path with you and build these eight habits in their own life, or find someone who at least understands your motivations and supports your efforts. Besides, sustaining positive relationships is also on the list, so this tip tackles two habits in one!

How do I break bad habits?

Adding healthy habits is one thing, but breaking bad habits is another! After all, once a behavior becomes automatic, it’s, well, automatic. (And we’re not even addressing addictions in this blog, which can be very difficult to stop and perhaps require medical intervention to do so.)

The good news is this—if you find an unhealthy habit hard to break, that only proves to you that once you practice these eight healthy habits long enough, they will be firmly rooted in your daily life. Then they will be hard to break!

The National Institutes of Health sheds some light on why it’s difficult for humans to change and offers advice on what to do about it:

  • Avoid tempting situations.
  • Prepare mentally.
  • Enlist support.
  • Replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.
  • Reward yourself for small steps.

Just be sure that the reward for small advances isn’t something that will jeopardize your progress. For example, a reward for eating healthy for a week shouldn’t be to have a cigarette or to devour half a pizza. (Hey, we’ve all been there!)

And, look! One of the tips is to “replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones.” You now have a list of eight healthy behaviors to get started on.

Does walking count as exercise?

Absolutely! Exercise is at the top of the eight health habits list, so if you’re ready to make some lifestyle changes, we can help!

Of course, you should always consult your physician before starting any new exercise program. That said, most experts agree that 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day is a good place to start. And walking counts as exercise!

A 2021 study found that people who logged at least 7,000 steps per day had a 50-70 percent lower risk of premature death, compared to those who walked fewer than 7,000 steps. MCHD’s Active Marion Project is here to help you count steps— just download the AMP 2 app now!

For information on all MCHD’s community health programs and initiatives, visit the Marion County Hospital District website.