Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer
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Research into longevity focuses on the cumulative impact of a wide range of lifestyle decisions. When mulling over what’s important, the mind tends to wander to the actions you should take. For example, packing your diet with fruit and veg. However, research shows that the actions you avoid are equally as important.
A large study published in the journal Health Affairs illustrates the longevity benefits you can reap from shunning three lifestyle habits.
The key finding is that people who do not smoke, are not obese, and consume alcohol moderately can expect to live seven years longer than the general population.
What’s more, eschewing those habits ensures those extra years are lived in good health, the study found.
To arrive at this conclusion, researchers analysed data from a long-term study conducted in the U.S., the Health and Retirement Study, which covered more than 14,000 individuals aged 50-89 over the 1998-2012 period.
The participants were interviewed about their health and behaviours every two years.
Those who reported having no limitations in the so-called activities of daily living (walking, dressing, bathing, getting out of bed, or eating) were classified as free of disability.
The participants who had a body mass index (measure of your height for your weight) of less than 30 were classified as not obese.
Those who had smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime were considered never smokers. Men who had fewer than 14 drinks per week and women who had fewer than seven drinks per week were considered moderate drinkers.
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The researchers analysed the ages at which the individuals with these healthy behaviours first became disabled, how many years they lived with disability, and their total life expectancy.
The researchers then compared these results with those of the general population, and with those of individuals with particularly risky behavioural profiles.
They found that never-smokers who were not obese lived four to five years longer than the general population, and that these extra years were free of disability.
The results of the analysis further indicated that individuals who also consumed alcohol moderately lived seven more disability-free years than the general population, and had a total life expectancy surpassing that of the population of Japan, a country that’s known for its long life expectancy.
The study was conducted by Mikko Myrskylä, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Germany; and Neil Mehta, Professor of Health Management and Policy at the University of Michigan, USA.
“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,” said Mikko Myrskylä.
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.”
The study marks the first to analyse the cumulative impact of several key health behaviours on disability-free and total life expectancy.
The researchers noted that each of the three unhealthy behaviours – obesity, smoking, and unhealthy consumption of alcohol – was linked to a reduction in life expectancy and to an earlier occurrence of disabilities.
But there 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 behaviours was found to be associated with the greatest number of healthy years.
What you need to do
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.
“This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight,” explains the NHS.
According to the health body, most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.
UK health guidelines suggest that fruit and vegetables should make up just over a third of the food you eat each day.
It’s recommended that you eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day.
They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
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