A healthy lifestyle pays off; research shows healthy habits result in a longer and better quality life

Many of us are under the impression that to live a longer and healthier life means extreme discipline, loads of exercise and being very strict about what we eat. While making these changes would certainly provide the best chance of greatly improved health, a new study by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany and the University of Michigan in the U.S., has found that just moderate lifestyle changes can result in a longer and healthier life.

The study, which was published in the journal Health Affairs, found that those who have never smoked, maintain a healthy weight, and drink moderately, can expect to live seven years longer than the general population. Best of all, they can also expect to enjoy those extra years of life in good health, free of disability.

The researchers based their findings on the Health and Retirement Study which was conducted in the U.S. between 1998 and 2012. More than 14,000 people aged between 50 and 89 took part in the study, with participants being interviewed about their lifestyles and general health every two years.

The criteria for the determinations were as follows: Anyone whose BMI was below 30 was considered to be of a normal weight; moderate drinking meant less than 14 drinks per week for men and less than seven for women; and never having smoked meant having smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetimes. (Related: Get help to quit smoking at StopSmoking.news.)

The study found that those who had never smoked and who maintained a healthy weight could expect to live four to five years longer than the general population, while those who also drank moderately could expect to increase that number to seven years. These years would also be disability-free, meaning they could go about the business of daily life, including dressing, walking, climbing stairs and eating, free of limitations.

Mikko Myrskylä, the study’s co-author, noted that while many believe that medicine is the key to a longer and healthier life, the truth is that a healthy lifestyle, “which costs nothing,” is actually the best way to ensure a long and healthy life.

He added, “A moderately healthy lifestyle is enough to get the benefits. Avoiding becoming obese, not smoking, and consuming alcohol moderately is not an unrealistic goal.”

Interestingly, each of the three unhealthy behaviors was associated with a reduction in life expectancy, but the three in combination had the biggest overall impact.

Max-Planck-Gesellschaft reported:

[T]here were also differences: smoking was found to be associated with an early death but not with an increase in the number of years with disability, whereas obesity was shown to be associated with a long period of time with disability. Excessive alcohol consumption was found to be associated with both decreased lifespan and a reduced number of healthy years. However, the absence of all of these risky healthy behaviors was found to be associated with the greatest number of healthy years.

And though the total absence of these risky behaviors led to an increased healthy life expectancy of seven years more than the general population, when compared to those who smoked, were overweight and drank excessively, the difference was even more stark at 11 years for men and 12 years for women. (Related: Five ways to increase your longevity and quality of life.)

“The most positive result is that the number of years that we have to live with physical limitations does not increase as we gain more years through healthy lifestyle. Instead, healthy lifestyle is associated with a strong increase in physically fit years. In other words, the years we gain through a healthy lifestyle are years in good health,” said Myrskylä.

“Our results show how important it is to focus on prevention,” he added. “Those who avoid risky health behaviours are achieving very long and healthy lives. Effective policy interventions targeting health behaviors could help larger fractions of the population to achieve the health benefits observed in this study.”

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