Helpful habits for a healthier life.
We all want to live a long life, and in Canada many people are doing just that. Average life expectancy in this country continues to rise and now stands at 82.96 years. The number of people celebrating their 100th birthday is also rising. However, a longer lifespan often comes with an increased risk of developing a serious health condition. It’s estimated that 73 per cent of senior citizens live with some sort of chronic disease, and four conditions – cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and chronic respiratory diseases – account for 60 per cent of all deaths in Canada.
While this outlook for old age may seem depressing, there’s reason for optimism. You can improve your odds of living longer in good health by embracing a few key healthy habits. And there’s an added bonus that healthy living can have a positive impact on other things in the meantime, such as your life insurance coverage.
Making healthy choices takes effort, but earning rewards can sometimes be the nudge you need. Behavioural life insurance takes a proactive approach to encouraging Canadians to make better choices. Policyholders can earn rewards by doing things that support overall health, such as exercising, getting regular dental and medical checkups, and getting a flu shot. Some benefits even offer free wearable devices that can help motivate you to reach your daily steps target.
Behavioural insurance complements the well-being that a person can enjoy by following a few healthy habits. A study by Harvard University identified five aspects of everyday life where behaviour tends to affect longevity.
Harvard researchers followed 120,000 men and women over several decades to study the effects of diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking and alcohol consumption on life spans. They discovered that positive focus in these five areas can make a big difference.
Researchers found that women who incorporated healthy habits in all five areas lived on average 14 years longer, and men 12 years longer, than people who practised none of the habits. But the study found that including just one healthy habit added about two years to a person’s life span.
Learning more about these five areas may help you make a few positive changes in your own life.
The world is your oyster when it comes to eating styles that claim to provide the latest and greatest health benefits. The Harvard researchers defined a healthy diet as including lots of vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fats and omega-3s, and less red and processed meats, sweetened drinks, trans fat and salt. And then there’s also low-carb, low-calorie, high-fat, intermittent fasting, plant-based and the list goes on. When adopting a new dietary lifestyle, it’s important to consider what’s sustainable. Committing to a long-term plan that eliminates entire food groups, such as carbohydrates or animal products, takes a great amount of determination. If you’re just beginning a healthy eating journey, look for the low-hanging fruit – can you opt to set aside the cookies, chips and other junk food in favour of better options?
Research conducted by the University of Southern California Longevity Institute has found that following three main principles – eating more plants, eating less meat and fasting can help to slow down the aging process. Eating lots of veggies, beans, some nuts, healthy oils, some fish, some dark chocolate, very little sugar and processed food, and no red meat can mimic the dietary habits like those in many super-aging Blue Zones around the world, where a remarkable number of residents live to their 100th birthday and beyond.
Thirty minutes of daily physical activity was the benchmark used in the Harvard study, which falls in line with Canadian recommendations of moderate to vigorous activity for adults (60 minutes minimum for kids and teens). Simply going for a walk every day might be the easiest way to get moving, but there are plenty of other options. Check out this article for workouts you can easily do at home. And this article provides some inspiration for getting kids away from their screens to be more physical.
In Canada, a body mass index (BMI) scale is used to determine if you’re underweight or overweight, and at risk of developing health problems. A normal BMI ranges between 18.5 and 24.9. A BMI over 30 is considered obese. Waist circumference (WC) is also used as a health measure. Excess fat around the waist and upper body is considered a greater health risk than fat carried around the hips. A WC at or above 102 centimetres for men and 88 centimetres for women is associated with increased risk for developing diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder issues and some forms of cancer. But being underweight also has negative health correlations, such as osteoporosis, nutritional imbalances and eating disorders.
Smoking is well known to be strongly related to many serious health risks, including cancer, lung disease, heart disease, skin and eye irritation, and reproductive problems. Research conducted by the U.S. National Cancer Institute has found that people who smoked only a tiny amount, averaging less than one cigarette a day, had a risk of dying from lung cancer nine times greater than the risk for those who never smoked. So, when it comes to healthy living and longevity, smoking can be particularly harmful.
If you want to live a long, healthy life, you may need to rethink your relationship with alcohol. New Canadian guidelines on alcohol consumption contain stark warnings that no amount of alcohol is safe, and that people should limit their intake to two drinks per week. That’s a big shift in thinking from the previous recommendations of 15 drinks a week for men and 10 for women. The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction warns that as few as three to six drinks per week can increase cancer risk. More than seven drinks per week increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Whether you need to re-examine some of your food choices, get moving more or drop a couple of dangerous habits (like smoking), minor changes can make a major difference over time. Your advisor can help you understand the insurance programs that offer various incentives to nudge you in the right direction towards a healthier, happier and longer life.
 Canada life expectancy 1950-2023 - March, 2023
 Aging and chronic diseases: A profile of Canadian seniors - July 20, 2021
 Healthy lifestyle: 5 keys to a longer life - March 25, 2020
 USC Longevity Institute – March, 2023
 Canada's Food Guide: Physical activity and healthy eating – May 6, 2022
 Canada’s Guidance on Alcohol and Health – Feb., 2023