8 expert-backed habits that will lead you to a happier, longer life

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  • Living a healthy life and taking care of your mental well-being has significant benefits.
  • Past research has found that people who followed a set of healthy habits lived longer than those who followed none of these habits.
  • Some of these habits include exercising regularly, getting quality sleep and drinking less alcohol.

Healthy habits can make a huge difference to how happy you are - and how long you live. 

Evidence has consistently shown us that to live a truly satisfied and long, healthy life, there are certain things you can do to get there. A past analysis found that people who met the criteria for healthy habits enjoyed their lives significantly and had impressively longer lives than those who had not. 

If you want to improve your health and mental peace in your day-to-day life, follow these expert-backed tips and see the difference.

1. Get screened regularly

Regular medical check-ups are important, even for young adults. They can help your doctor diagnose a disease before it has the chance to progress.

"The best time to see your physician is not when you already have symptoms and need help -- it's on a regular basis to build and establish that relationship so that your physician can get a baseline of your health," says CNN Medical Analyst, Dr Leana Wen.

2. Get moving

There’s plenty of research to support the need to exercise. While it helps keep a healthy metabolism, weight, and is beneficial for your mental well-being, it can also lower your risk of developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and stroke, said Wen.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends adults get at least 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate-to-vigorous exercise weekly.

READ MORE | How often do we really need to exercise?

3. Eat healthy

Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to increase lifespan by up to 13 years. Several studies have shown that ditching red meat for more nuts, whole grains, and legumes are key to a healthier heart. 

The WHO currently recommends eating five portions, or 400g, of fruit and vegetables a day. 

4. Prioritise mental health

Mental health has been neglected for far too long. As the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) explains: “Mental health is … essential to your overall health and quality of life.”

Self-care, which is about taking the time to do things that help you live well, can play a significant role in maintaining your mental health by helping you manage your stress and lowering your risk of illness, says the NIMH.

READ MORE | Mental health in SA ranked among the worst in the world

Wen added that mental health is often "such a neglected part of our overall health, but actually contributes a huge amount to overall health and well-being.”

Simple self-care tips include living a healthy lifestyle, practising gratitude, setting goals and priorities, and staying connected to friends and family who can provide you with emotional support.

5. Getting quality sleep

Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for optimal health. A previous study found that sleep deprivation has many negative effects, including forcing people to become more socially isolated and increasing their feelings of loneliness.

Getting at least seven hours of sleep a night has been linked to lower levels of stress hormones, blood sugar and blood pressure, Dr Nieca Goldberg, clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine told CNN.

6. Limit alcohol intake

For most moderate drinkers, alcohol has overall health benefits, according to Harvard Health

However, Goldberg says "heavy alcohol intake can actually be a direct toxin to the heart muscle and result in heart failure. And it also raises (blood sugar levels) and causes weight gain."

7. Avoid smoking

Smoking has long been linked to being a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. "Smoking [also] … increases the likelihood of multiple cancers -- not just lung cancer but also things like breast cancer," says Wen. 

READ MORE | Wellness vapes: what you need to know about vaping vitamins and other supplements

If you're a habitual smoker, it's not too late to quit to lengthen your life, Wen added. If you’re trying to quit, here are eight apps that might help and motivate you on your journey to quitting.

8. Prioritise strong relationships

Studies show that having close relationships with friends and family keeps people happy throughout their lives, more than money or fame, Harvard Health explains

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