New research has found that following healthy lifestyle habits, such as not smoking and exercising regularly, can add ten disease-free years to your lifespan.
Led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, Massachusetts, the new large-scale study analysed data on 73,196 women and 38,366 men, who were all free of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes at the start of the study.
The researchers looked at five low-risk lifestyle factors — never smoking, maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI), doing at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, a moderate alcohol intake and a good quality diet — to calculate a healthy lifestyle score for each participant. The scores ranged from 0 to 5, with a higher score indicating a healthier lifestyle.
Participants were then assessed regularly over a period of more than 20 years.
The findings show that after adjusting for potentially influencing factors such as age, ethnicity and family medical history, the life expectancy for women at age 50 was 24 years free of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, for those who followed none of the healthy lifestyle habits.
However, it was 34 years free of disease for women who followed four or five healthy habits.
The results were similar for men: those who adopted none of the healthy habits had a life expectancy free of any of these chronic diseases of 24 years, compared to 31 years for the men who adopted four or five of the healthy habits.
Women who followed four or five of the healthy lifestyle factors had 10.6 years’ longer life expectancy free of the major chronic diseases than women with zero healthy lifestyle factors, while men gained 7.6 more years free of major chronic diseases compared to those with zero healthy lifestyle factors.
Men who smoked heavily (15 or more cigarettes a day) or obese men and women (body mass index of 30 or over) had the lowest proportion (75% or less) of disease-free life expectancy at age 50.
The researchers note that as this is an observational study, they cannot establish cause and effect, and the study does have its limitations; for example, self-reporting lifestyle habits can be prone to errors.
However, they note that the research includes a large amount of participants who were followed long-term, and that adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle appears to add extra years to an individual’s lifespan, especially years that are free of major chronic diseases.