A study published in the British Medical Journal has found that healthy habits such as staying slim, exercising for at least 30 minutes a day and drinking in moderation, could extend a person’s disease-free life by up to ten years.
Experts found that compared to people who smoked, were overweight or drank too much, those living a healthy lifestyle could expect to enjoy many more years of good health.
The study included data from more than 110,000 people who were monitored and looked specifically at type 2 diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Researchers from both the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and The Amsterdam University of Applied Science, looked at five “low-risk” healthy habits. They were...
Lead author Dr Frank Hu, of Harvard School of Public Health, said the study had a “positive message for the public. They gain not just more years of life, but good years through improved lifestyle choices”.
The team went on to look at how many more disease-free years people over 50 could expect if living a ‘healthy life’.
Those at the age of 50 were asked if they met at least four of these five criteria:
The results showed that at 50 years of age, women adopting four or five healthy living choices, therefore living a lifestyle, had a disease-free life expectancy of 34.4 more years. This means getting to the age of 84 without cancer, diabetes or heart disease.
This compared with just 23.7 more years of disease-free life expectancy from women (aged 50) who had not adopted any of the elements of a healthy lifestyle.
For men aged 50, those who adopted four or five of the healthy living choices, could expect a further 31.1 years free from disease, compared with just 23.5 years for men who had not adopted healthy lifestyle choices.
On the other hand obese men and women (with a BMI over 30) and Men who smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day, had the worst chances of living a life free from disease.
So why are the results different for men and women? Well It may be linked to the fact that women generally live longer than men on average anyway.
Some things however were true for both sexes. For instance, not only did a healthy lifestyle mean a lower risk of contracting these diseases, it also showed an improved survival rate if men or women were diagnosed with any of them.
"The benefits add up for men and women," Dr Hu said.
The researchers concluded: “We observed that adherence to a low-risk lifestyle was associated with a longer life expectancy at age 50 free of major chronic diseases of approximately 7.6 years in men and 10 years in women compared with participants with no low-risk lifestyle factors.
“Public policies for improving food and the physical environment conducive to adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as relevant policies and regulations (for example, smoking bans in public places or trans fat restrictions) are critical to improving life expectancy, especially life expectancy free of major chronic diseases.”
Cardiovascular disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes are three of the most common diseases in old age. All three are also closely linked to people's lifestyles.
Being obese or overweight, for example, is thought to be linked to 13 different types of cancers, including breast, bowel, kidney, liver and oesophagus.
Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This new, large study further confirms our own research that having a healthy lifestyle lowers your risk of cancer and other diseases.
“We hope the government will be persuaded by the mounting evidence, and take bold, positive steps to protect the nation’s health by making our environments healthier, so that it is easier for people to make healthy choices.
“This includes a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising, subsidies on healthy food to make them more affordable, and better urban design that encourages walking and cycling over driving.”
Prof Jonathan Valabhji, clinical director for diabetes and obesity for the NHS, said: “Expanding waistlines are damaging for both the health of the nation and the NHS – leading to a string of dangerous diseases with a heavy cost for taxpayers.
“The NHS long term plan is playing its part through a range of ambitious actions – including piloting low-calorie diets which have been shown can put type 2 diabetes into remission – but people can take simple common sense steps to lead longer and healthier lives.”
Cancer Research UK has calculated that four in 10 cancers can be prevented by people changing aspects of their lifestyle, such as cutting down on processed meat, eating more fibre in their diet and protecting their skin in the sun.