Top 5 Habits to Prevent Chronic Disease—and Live Longer

by Jennifer Reardon

Exercising for about 30 minutes a day is proven to help prevent chronic disease. (Photo by

In early 2020, researchers from the Brigham and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported that practicing certain lifestyle habits in middle age can “substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.”

After analyzing nearly 30 years of data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, investigators found people who followed four or five healthy habits at age 50 had nearly 10 more years free of chronic disease compared with those who adopted none of these habits:

  1. Eating a healthy diet (see Healthy Eating Plate illustration)
  2. Exercising about 30 minutes a day
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight with a body mass index of 25 or less
  4. Keeping alcohol consumption to a minimum
  5. Not smoking

JoAnn Manson, MD, DrPH, chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at the Brigham and the Michael and Lee Bell Professor of Women’s Health at Harvard Medical School, says these studies “show that relatively straightforward health behaviors are associated with reducing risk for heart attack by 80%, stroke by 70%, type 2 diabetes by 90%, and cancer by 40% to 50%.”

Manson adds, “There’s a general myth that our health is predetermined for us and we can’t change its course. However, heredity is not destiny in most types of chronic disease.”