Adopting a healthier lifestyle can add years to your life—even in your 80s, according to new research from Japan.
Reducing drinking, not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and increasing sleep produce the biggest gains, say scientists.
They increased longevity by six years in healthy 40-year-olds. The benefits were even more prominent in those twice the age.
These gains applied also to individuals with life-threatening illnesses, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease.
The study from Osaka University shows it is never too late to give up bad habits and shed the pounds, from middle age onwards. It was based on almost 50,000 people in Japan who were tracked for up to 20 years.
“This is a particularly important finding given the prevalence of chronic disease has increased globally,” said Senior author Professor Hiroyasu Iso.
The team says taking ownership of your health is key to a pleasurable retirement.
“Idioms and proverbs about the importance of maintaining good health span the ages. Many emphasize how closely health is tied to happiness and the opportunity to live a fulfilling and enjoyable life.”
The study, published in Age and Aging, found that healthy behaviors adopted over time have a marked effect on lifespan.
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The researchers found that adopting five or more healthy lifestyle behaviors increased life expectancy even for individuals over 80 years old, and importantly, including those with chronic conditions. They saw results that were dependent on socioeconomic status, policies such as assisted access to healthcare, and lifestyle factors.
30 years ago, participants in The Japan Collaborate Cohort (JACC) Study filled in surveys that included questions about diet and exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking status, sleep duration, and BMI (body mass index). They were also asked about any illnesses.
The aim was to increase knowledge about what factors contribute to death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Points were awarded for each healthy behavior and the impact of modifying them on projected lifespan was assessed.
The project continued until December 2009, by which time nearly 9,000 individuals had died.
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It is one of the first studies to measure the impact of improvements to health behavior among older individuals in a country with a national life expectancy achieving almost 85 years.
“The finding that lifestyle improvements has a positive impact on health despite chronic health conditions and older age is an empowering one, especially given the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and longer life,” said lead author Dr. Ryoto Sakaniwa.
Two years ago a study found women can gain ten and men seven years of life free of cancer, heart problems, and type-2 diabetes from a healthy lifestyle. That research was based on 111,000 Americans tracked for more than 20 years.
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Lead author Dr Frank Hu, of Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, described the findings as “a positive message for the public”.
“They gain not just more years of life but good years through improved lifestyle choices.”
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