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January 2020

Healthy lifestyle could extend disease free life by 10 years



A study in more than 110,000 people has found that women who adopt four or five healthy lifestyle habits were likely to live an extra 10 years without cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer or type 2 diabetes. Men who adopted the same behaviours lived an additional 7 years, compared with those who did not.1

The markers used in the study included not smoking, having a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9 kg/m2, doing 30 minutes moderate to vigorous exercise a day, drinking alcohol in moderation (under 2 units a day for women, and 4 units a day for men) and having a healthy diet score.

While the study, published in The BMJ, could not prove that these measures directly caused additional years of healthy live, it adds weight to existing evidence that these lifestyle habits reduce the chance of disease, and few studies have as comprehensively examined how a combination of multiple lifestyle factors may contribute to disease-free life expectancy.

Researchers followed two cohorts of men and women who were studied in the US between 1980 and 2014 – the Health Professionals Follow-up Study of male doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals over 28 years, and the Nurses’ Health Study of female nurses over 34 years, respectively. Participants completed questionnaires every 2 years that included information about their weight and height, smoking status, physical activity, alcohol intake and diet, as well as about any diagnoses of type 2 diabetes, CVD or cancer.

The data were used to calculate how long someone aged 50 could expect to live - those with the highest overall score could expect to live another 30 to 40 years, with 75% to 84% of those years free of these diseases. The people with the lowest disease-free life expectancy were men who smoked heavily and women who were obese.

The researchers said: ‘Our findings suggest that promotion of a healthy lifestyle would help to reduce the healthcare burdens through lowering the risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, including cancer. CVD and diabetes, and extending disease-free life expectancy.’

  • A separate study in the Journal of Gerontology found that being rich can also improve disease-free life expectancy. At age 50, the wealthiest men aged 50 in England and the US lived around an extra 31 years in good health compared with 22-23 years for those in the poorest group. Women from the wealthiest groups lived an extra 33 years, in comparison with 24-25 years for the poorest.

1. Li Y, et al. BMJ 2020;368:16669 https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.l6669