It often takes an acute health crisis to get people to the point where they are willing to change direction and adopt a healthier lifestyle.
But what if someone has two or more chronic conditions such as asthma, angina, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis that will likely remain regardless of any lifestyle changes they make?
Will a person in this situation see a benefit in terms of life expectancy by making healthier choices?
Scientists from the United Kingdom thought this question needed to be answered.
We’ve been told that not smoking, avoiding junk food, losing excess weight, exercising regularly, and other healthy choices will keep us well and increase our life expectancy. But does the science really bear this out?
A group of international scientists led by Harvard performed the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of a low-risk lifestyle on life expectancy in the U.S.
The study analyzed data on more than 140,000 health professionals over a period of 27 to 34 years.
They looked at people with five low-risk lifestyle factors. These people never smoked, maintained a normal body weight, got at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, consumed alcohol in moderation, and ate a high quality diet. The scientists compared this group to one in which none of these healthy lifestyle factors applied.
Now, please note that these two groups represent the extremes between doing nothing for good health and doing practically everything.
Lived an Additional 12 to 14 Years
The healthy group was 82 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, 65 percent less likely to die from cancer, and 74 percent less likely to die during the study period.
Those are stunning differences.
The projected life expectancy for women at age 50 was 93.1, and for men, 87.6. compared to the unhealthy group. That’s an additional 14 years of life for women and 12 for men! I don’t know about you, but that’s enough to motivate me to make some lifestyle changes.
These results demonstrate that lifestyle really does make a difference. The researchers published their findings in the journal Circulation in 2018.
But no study had ever focused on whether a healthy lifestyle has an impact on longevity in the presence of chronic health problems, so scientists from the University of Leicester decided to fill this gap.
It’s Never too Late to Make Lifestyle Changes
To do so they collected data from 480,940 participants aged 38 to 73 in the U.K. Biobank, a database of genetic and health information.
Among the group, almost one in five had multi-morbidities. This was defined as two or more out of 36 chronic conditions.
Researchers looked at four lifestyle factors: physical activity, smoking, alcohol and diet, and divided these into four categories: very unhealthy, unhealthy, healthy, and very healthy.
They followed up for the next six to ten years during which 11,006 deaths occurred.
After adjusting for various factors that could skew the results, they compared men and women with multi-morbidities in the lowest, very unhealthy category, with those in the three higher categories.
Enjoy Seven More Years of Life
The scientists found that men in the three higher categories lived an additional 1.5, 4.5 and 6.3 years respectively. For women it was even better, an extra 3.5, 6.4 and 7.6 years.
A healthier lifestyle was consistently linked to longer life expectancy irrespective of the presence of multiple long-term medical conditions.
Lead researcher Yogini Chudasama commented, “More individuals are living with multiple chronic conditions, impacting their health and daily lives.
“We found a healthy lifestyle, in particular abstinence from smoking, increased life expectancy by as much as seven years. Our study has important implications for the public’s health, as we hope our findings have shown that it’s never too late to make vital lifestyle changes.”