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Four behaviors hold the key to healthy aging, experts say

October 24, 2012

For many seniors, finding the right path to healthy aging may seem difficult. After all, there are many aspects to take into consideration, from maintaining one's social circle to exercising regularly. However, a new study out of the United Kingdom suggests that healthy aging may be simpler than previously thought. Four behaviors later in life - not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, daily exercise and regularly eating fruits and vegetables - are all it takes.

Though it may seem simple, the study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, provides statistical evidence supporting the four behaviors' roles in seniors' well-being. Researchers looked at 5,100 British adults and found that participants who followed all of the behaviors were about three times more likely to avoid mental health problems, disability or other chronic conditions during the 16-year follow-up period than those who did not.

Each behavior is associated with better health. In fact, when taken separately, each increases the chances of successful aging, which includes the ability to maintain mobility and cognitive function, by as much as 30 percent. However, researchers say the combined impact of all four is what offers the greatest benefits.

"By treating our bodies with care and avoiding harmful substances over a long period of time, the health effects are compounded," Dr. Richard Berkel told "Over time, because we are free of disability and illness and have more energy, we are able to live more fully and take on more challenges."

Given the individual benefits of each behavior, it's not hard to believe that they offer such significant advantages when combined. For instance, a recent study out of Scotland's University of Edinburgh found that regular physical activity is associated with more white and gray matter in the brain, which indicates slower rates of brain shrinkage in older adults.