Healthy behaviour in middle age significantly increases the chances of staying disease-free later in life, a study has shown.
Scientists assessed four aspects of healthy behaviour - not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, exercise and eating fruits and vegetables - in more than 5,000 British men and women.
All were associated with a greater likelihood of “successful ageing” over a period of 16 years.
Successful ageing was defined as maintaining an ability to function well without developing chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke or disability.
It involved having good mobility, mental skills and health, and lung function.
“All four healthy behaviours examined during midlife… were associated with greater odds of successfully ageing during a 16-year follow up,” the authors, led by Dr Severine Sabia, from University College London, wrote in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
The research formed part of the Whitehall II study set up to investigate links between social background and health.
Participants were aged 42 and 63 at the start of the study and free from cancer, heart disease or stroke.
During the course of the study 549 people died and 953 were classified as successfully ageing.
Successful agers were more likely to have been through higher education and to be married.
Of this group, 81% were married compared with 78% of the “normal ageing” group and 71% of those who died.
In the study population, just 5% did not engage in any of the healthy behaviours.
The researchers concluded: “Our study shows the cumulative impact of healthy behaviours on successful ageing - the greater the number of healthy behaviours, the greater the benefit.
“Although individual healthy behaviours are moderately associated with successful ageing, their combined impact is quite substantial. Multiple healthy behaviours appear to increase the chance of reaching old age disease-free and fully functional.”
Doireann Maddock, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, which co-funded the study, said: “These findings aren’t rocket science. The simple truth is that if you lead a healthy lifestyle you’ll see the benefits as you get older.
“If you want the best possible chance of staying healthy as the years go by, avoid smoking, don’t drink more than moderate amounts of alcohol, and enjoy at least two and a half hours of physical activity each week. Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruit and veg is part of that winning formula, too.”