On average, people are living longer. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are living better. Like with many things, life may be better judged by quality rather than quantity.
Quality of life is often judged by health. If you’re living the extra years, it makes sense to want to live them as healthily as possible. But the longer a person is alive, the more likely they are to get sick and live with a chronic illness. Chronic illnesses can reduce the quality of life in a number of ways: invasive treatments, stress, pain, immobility, and more.
Put simply, they make it very difficult to have a high-quality life.
But new research is showing that lifestyle factors can play a major role in disease risk and length and quality of life. Of course, it is no surprise that physical activity levels, smoking status, alcohol consumption, diet quality, and weight make a difference in life length and quality. But a new study is the first to show just how much of a difference they can make.
Using data from the Nurses’ Health study, which featured health and lifestyle information on more than 73,000 female nurses, and from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which features data on more than 38,300 male healthcare professionals, researchers were able to measure exactly how many disease-free years a person could live.
Published in BMJ, the British Medical Journal, they noted that adhering to a low-risk lifestyle—at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, never smoking, a healthy weight, moderate alcohol consumption, and a good quality diet—made a major difference in life expectancy and quality.
The authors said, “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.”
They went on to note that a healthful lifestyle was not just associated with a lower risk for type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and more, but it also improved the survival rate after the diagnosis of disease. Therefore, if a person with a healthy lifestyle did go on to contract one of these diseases later in life, they were likely living better than there less healthy counterparts.
Living longer is something many people want. What they often fail to consider is the quality of those years. Adopting a healthier lifestyle can help prevent disease and make it easier to deal with if and when one does arise.