aging · health

Healthy habits, long lives, and elderly spiders

This is a blog post in three parts.

Part 1. It begins when a big study announces something that seems kind of obvious. The five habits that can add more than a decade to your life, from the Guardian.

In short, don’t smoke, drink only in moderation, exercise, control your weight, and eat your vegetables if you want to live a long time.

Researchers at Harvard University used lifestyle questionnaires and medical records from 123,000 volunteers to understand how much longer people lived if they followed a healthy diet, controlled their weight, took regular exercise, drank in moderation and did not smoke. When the scientists calculated average life expectancy, they noticed a dramatic effect from the healthy habits. Compared with people who adopted none of them, men and women who adhered to all five saw their life expectancy at 50 rise from 26 to 38 years and 29 to 43 years respectively, or an extra 12 years for men and 14 for women. “When we embarked on this study, I thought, of course, that people who adopted these habits would live longer. But the surprising thing was how huge the effect was,” said Meir Stampfer, a co-author on the study and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

2. And then a very old spider died making the point that not all lifestyle changes are changes worth making. “Number 16 built her burrow in the North Bungulla Reserve in southwestern Australia, when she was young. Like all female trapdoor spiders (mygalomorph spiders), she was a homebody, never leaving her burrow.”

Luckily none of the healthy habits involved never leaving the house.

3. Finally, health journalist Andre Picard points out that the healthy habits might not be enough. He tweeted, “Here are 10 other things that are probably more important to a healthy life than lifestyle choices.”

from Picard’s book “Matters of Life and Death,” p. 268