A healthy lifestyle can make a big difference in the prevention of disease. A new study published in The BMJ has found that not smoking, watching your weight, and exercising regularly is associated with a longer life expectancy free of major diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and diabetes.
On average, across the world, people are living longer. However, living longer doesn’t always mean being healthy during those years. As populations age, individuals often live with disabilities and chronic disease. This is why it is so important for studies on disease prevention.
For the study, data was analyzed from 73,196 US registered female nurses from the Nurses’ Health Study and 38,366 US male health professionals from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. All participants were free of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer at the time of enrollment.
Researchers assessed participants regularly over a period of more than 20 years. During this assessment period, new diagnoses of deaths from cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease were recorded.
To calculate a healthy lifestyle score, five low-risk lifestyle factors were used. These included never smoking, healthy weight (BMI), at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity, moderate alcohol intake, and a good quality diet. The sum of these five scores together gave a final low-risk lifestyle score ranging from 0 – 5. The higher scores indicated a healthier lifestyle.
It was found that after adjusting for age, family medical history, ethnicity, and other potentially influential factors, life expectancy free of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes at age 50 was 24 years for women who adopted no low-risk lifestyle factors. In women who adopted four or five low-risk factors, healthy life expectancy was 34 years.
In men, life expectancy free of any of these chronic diseases was 24 years among those who adopted no low-risk lifestyle factors and 31 years in those who adopted four or five low-risk lifestyle factors.
Overall, it was concluded that the number of extra disease-free years is around 7.6 for men and 10 for women, compared with participants with no low-risk lifestyle factors.
Researchers wrote, “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 ban in public places or trans-fat restrictions) are critical to improving life expectancy, especially life expectancy free of major chronic diseases.”
Although this is only an observational study, it does help to establish the importance of exercise and a healthy diet throughout middle age. Few studies have looked at how a combination of lifestyle factors may relate to life expectancy free from major disease, so more research is needed to understand the full connection.