A healthy lifestyle can increase life expectancy, study finds

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A healthy lifestyle can allow older people to live longer, with women adding three years and men six to their life expectancy, suggests a study published in the journal BMJ. Also, more of those years can be dementia-free. More than 6 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is no cure.

The study found that at age 65, women with the healthiest lifestyles had an average life expectancy of around 24 years, compared to 21 years for women whose lifestyles were deemed less healthy. Life expectancy for men with the healthiest lifestyles was 23 years, compared to 17 years for men with the poorest health.

The findings come from research involving 2,449 people aged 65 and older and part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project, which first recruited participants in 1993.

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The current researchers developed a healthy lifestyle scoring system for their participants that encompassed five factors: diet, cognitive activity, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption. People received a point for each area if they met health standards, resulting in a final score of 0 to 5, with higher scores indicating a healthier lifestyle.

As for people with dementia, those with a score of 4 or 5 healthy factors at age 65 lived with Alzheimer’s disease for a smaller proportion of their remaining years than those with a score of 0 or 1. women, the difference for those who had a healthier lifestyle had Alzheimer’s disease for 11% of their last years compared to 19% for those who had a less healthy lifestyle; for men, it was 6% of their remaining time versus 12%.

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The researchers concluded that “prolonged life expectancy due to a healthy lifestyle is not associated with an increased number of years living with Alzheimer’s dementia”, but rather with a “higher proportion number of remaining years lived without Alzheimer’s dementia”.

This article is part of the Post’s “Big Number” series, which briefly examines the statistical side of health problems. Additional information and relevant research is available via the hyperlinks.

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