Healthy habits in middle age may add a decade of 'disease-free years' to your life

Mature woman eating salad.
A healthy diet could guarantee you more "disease-free years". [Photo: Getty]

Adopting healthy habits in middle age could give you an extra decade of “disease-free” life, research suggests.

Harvard scientists analysed a total of more than 111,500 people over 20 years.

They found women who did not smoke, maintained a healthy weight and exercised regularly at 50 had an extra 10 “disease-free years” than those who neglected their wellbeing.

Among men, looking after their health in middle age warded off cancer, heart disease and diabetes for an “additional” 7.6 years.

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“Public policies for improving food and the physical environment conducive to adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as relevant policies and regulations are critical to improving life expectancy, especially life expectancy free of major chronic diseases”, the scientists wrote in The BMJ.

An example of such a policy includes banning smoking in public places, they added.

Vaccination programmes, medical advances and a decline in smoking means life expectancy reached 79.6 years for men and 83.2 years for women in England in 2018, The King’s Fund reported.

In the US, most lived to 78.5 years in 2017, according to The World Bank.

A downside of living longer may be the disabilities and diseases that come with age.

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Smoking, inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and poor diet could be behind up to 60% of premature deaths, the Harvard scientists wrote.

Bad habits may also knock between seven and 17 years off a person’s life, they added.

Less was known, however, about how lifestyle factors affect a person’s “disease-free years”.

To learn more, the team looked at more than 73,000 participants of the Nurses’ Health Study and over 38,000 from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

The participants were free of cancer, heart disease and diabetes at the start.

Those who never smoked, maintained a healthy weight, exercised for at least half-an-hour a day, drank in moderation and ate a healthy diet were given the maximum “lifestyle score” of five

READ MORE: US life expectancy declining due to more deaths in middle age

Results show the women who scored four or five lived on average 10.6 more “disease free” years than those given zero. Their healthy male counterparts gained 7.6 years.

Such differences between men and women have been seen before, however, why they occur is less clear.

The men who smoked 15 or more cigarettes a day, and the obese men or women, came out worst.

The scientists stress they relied on the participants self-reporting their habits.

They also note most of those involved were white, with the results perhaps not applying to other ethnicities.

Nevertheless, the study was large, with a long follow-up, the scientists claimed.

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