Healthy Lifestyles Yield Downstream Benefits for Life Expectancy, Cancer-free, and Cardiovascular Disease-free Life Later in Life

Engaging in health lifestyle practices in middle age is an effective way to prevent cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease later in life, new study results show.

The prospective cohort study, published in BMJ, included data from the Nurse’s Health Study (conducted between 1980 and 2014, with data from 73,196 individuals, and the Health Professionals’ Follow-Up Study (conducted between 1986 and 2014, with data from 38,366 individuals). The researchers looked specifically at five low-risk lifestyle factors, including never smoking, body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9, moderate to vigorous physical activity (≥30 minutes/day), moderate alcohol intake (defined as 5-15g per day for women and 5-30g per day for men), and a higher diet quality score (upper 40%). The outcome of interest was life expectancy free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

According to the study results, life expectancy free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer at age 50 was 23.7 years (95% CI, 22.6 to 24.7) in women with no low risk lifestyle factors, and 34.4 years (95% CI, 33.1 to 35.5) for women who had adopted four or more of the low-risk lifestyle factors. For men at age 50, the average life expectancy free of disease was 23.5 years (95% CI, 22.3 to 24.7) in those who hadn’t adopted the low risk lifestyle factors, and 31.1 (95% CI, 29.5 to 32.5) who adopted four or more of the lifestyle factors. Males who currently smoked heavily (15 or more cigarettes per day) or obese men and women (body mass index ≥30) accounted for the lowest proportion of total life expectancy at age 50, according to the researchers.

“We observed that a healthier lifestyle was associated with a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes as well as mortality, with an increased total life expectancy and number of years lived free of these diseases,” they wrote. “Our findings suggest that promotion of a healthy lifestyle would help to reduce the healthcare burdens through lowering the risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, and extending disease-free life expectancy.”

The authors also emphasized the role that public policy should play to help curb the risks and effects that healthy lifestyles can lead to.

“Public policies for improving food and the physical environment conducive to adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle, as well as relevant policies and regulations (for example, smoking ban in public places or trans-fat restrictions), are critical to improving life expectancy, especially life expectancy free of major chronic diseases,” they wrote in their conclusion.