• 20-year study finds healthy life expectancy can be increased by 5 behaviours.
  • Adopting low-risk behaviours can extend life of people diagnosed with illness.
  • Heavy smoking and obesity are major limits on life expectancy.

Do you eat your greens? Get daily exercise? Limit how much alcohol you drink? There are five healthy habits that can help you live up to a decade longer, cutting the risk of cancer, heart problems and diabetes, researchers have found.

A 20-year study of more than 111,000 people found that a healthy lifestyle could increase life expectancy free from three common chronic diseases by up to 10 years for women and seven years for men.

The key healthy lifestyle traits explored were: never smoking; a healthy diet; a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9; at least 30 minutes’ moderate to vigorous exercise each day; and a moderate alcohol intake – no more than a small glass of wine or pint of beer a day.

Women aged 50 who met four or five of these criteria were likely to live another 34 years without contracting cancer, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes. This is 10 years longer than those who followed none of these practices.

For men, the average expectancy was another 31 years of disease-free life – seven years more than those who had less healthy lifestyles.

health risk life expectancy ageing
Adopting more low-risk factors extends disease-free life for men and women.
Image: The BMJ

Men who smoked a lot – more than 15 cigarettes a day – and obese men and women were found to have the shortest disease-free life expectancy.

It’s not too late…

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, also revealed that those people who adopted healthy habits even after a disease diagnosis would still benefit.

For example, half of those with cancer that embraced at least four of the healthy traits survived up to 22.9 years, while those that adopted no low-risk lifestyle factors lived around 11 years longer.

Average life expectancy around the world has increased dramatically in recent years – but although people live longer, their old age is often marred by chronic illness.

Globally, the population over 65 is the fastest growing age group. This shift towards a greyer population is already influencing government policies and reshaping societies around the world. And how governments balance the costs of caring for a more elderly population with fewer people entering the workforce is an ever more pressing question.