Adopting these healthy habits can add years to your life — even in your 80s

OSAKA, Japan — Adopting healthier lifestyle habits can lead to a longer life — even if you’re already in your 80s, a new study reveals.

Researchers from Osaka University say reducing drinking, not smoking, losing weight, and getting more sleep leads to the biggest gains. These habits increased longevity by six years in healthy 40-year-olds, with benefits even more prominent in those twice that age.

Moreover, the benefits also applied to individuals with life-threatening illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease. The study shows it is never too late to give up bad habits and shed extra pounds from middle age onwards. The findings come from a review of almost 50,000 people in Japan, tracked for up to 20 years.

“This is a particularly important finding given that the prevalence of chronic disease has increased globally and is a major cause of death in older populations,” says senior author Professor Hiroyasu Iso in a university release.

The Osaka University team say taking ownership of your health is key to a pleasurable retirement. They add that idioms and proverbs about how importance it is to maintain good health span all of history. Many of these emphasize the close relationship between health and happiness.

The analysis in the journal Age and Ageing found healthy behaviors have a marked effect on the human lifespan. Adopting five or more healthy habits increased life expectancy — even for those over 80 years-old and those with chronic conditions.

It’s never too late to add years to your life

Researchers add that lifespan is also dependent on socioeconomic status, policies such as assisted access to healthcare, and lifestyle factors. Between 1988 and 1990, study participants filled in surveys that included questions about diet and exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking status, sleep duration, and their BMI (body mass index). They also reported on any illnesses they dealt with over the years.

The aim of the study was to increase knowledge about what factors contribute to death from cancer and cardiovascular disease. The team awarded points for each healthy behavior and assessed the impact of modifying them on projected lifespan. The project continued until December 2009, by which time nearly 9,000 individuals had died.

“The results were very clear. A higher number of modified healthy behaviors was directly associated with great longevity for both men and women,” says first author Dr. Ryoto Sakaniwa.

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 of 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,” the researchers write in a statement.

“The findings of this study will contribute to the design of future healthcare settings, public health approaches, and policies that work in partnership with patients to promote healthy lifestyle choices.”

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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