ROSTOCK, Germany — Living a healthy lifestyle can add up to seven years to your life expectancy, a new study finds.
Researchers in Germany and the U.S. analyzed data on over 14,000 elderly Americans from the Health and Retirement Study, hoping to find whether the absence of three risk factors— smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption— was linked to increased health and lifespan.
The researchers found that those who didn’t smoke and weren’t obese lived four to five years longer than the general population, while those who also drank in moderation could expect to live up to seven additional years.
In addition to living longer, these individuals were expected to be disability-free in their later years.
These findings are notable in that individuals who lack all three risk factors would project to live longer than the famously long-lived Japanese.
“Improvements in medical technology are often thought to be the gatekeeper to healthier, longer life. We showed that a healthy lifestyle, which costs nothing, is enough to enable individuals to enjoy a very long and healthy life,” says researcher Mikko Myrskylä, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, in a press release.
This study is the first to look at these risk factors simultaneously, as opposed to individually.
Interestingly, each risk factor was associated with different health outcomes on an individual basis.
Smoking, for example, was linked to early mortality, but not an increase in years being disabled.
Meanwhile, excessive alcohol consumption was linked to both a decreased lifespan and quality of health.
On the same note, the researchers found that healthy, non-smoking men who didn’t drink in excess lived about 11 years longer on average than men who were overweight, drank frequently, and smoked. Similarly, that gap jumped up to 12 years in women.
“Our results show how important it is to focus on prevention,” emphasizes Myrskylä. “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.”
For the study, people who smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime were considered never-smokers, and those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher were listed as obese. Consuming 14 drinks or less per week would classify a person as a moderate drinker.
The study’s findings were published this month in the journal Health Affairs.