Eat Well, Move Often, Don’t Smoke, Drink a Little — and Live Long

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Unless you’ve been blessed with certain longevity genes, research suggests that living clean may be your key to living long. A new analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that people who prioritized healthy habits were more likely to outlive those who didn’t.

Using data on 16,958 participants, ages 17 and up, in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III Mortality Study from 1988 and 2006, the CDC’s researchers identified four crucial habits associated with longer life: not smoking, drinking alcohol moderately, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.

People who practiced all four healthy behaviors were 63% less likely to die from any cause within the 18-year study period than those who didn’t engage in any of them.

Those who incorporated all four low-risk habits were also 65% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and 66% less likely to die from cancer, compared with those who smoked, drank, ate poorly and didn’t exercise.

“Our results add to the evidence base regarding the favorable effect of healthy living on mortality,” wrote the researchers. “The estimates of mortality that can be postponed underscore the need for improving the overall level of healthy living in the United States.”

Each healthy behavior was individually associated with a reduced risk of death — abstaining from smoking had the greatest effect — but the magnitude of the impact was largest when all behaviors were practiced together.

Sure, there will always be the odd anecdote that contradicts such findings (“My grandfather ate bacon and smoked cigars every day until age 93!”), but the weight of the evidence shows that taking care of yourself pays off in the long run.

Meredith Melnick is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeredithCM. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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