Living a healthy lifestyle into old age can extend your life by up to six years, research has shown.
Until now it has not been clear whether factors such as being overweight, smoking and excessive drinking make a difference to people aged 75 or more.
The 18-year Swedish study of almost 2,000 older individuals indicates that it does.
Scientists found that long-term healthy living can add five years to a woman’s life and six years to a man’s.
Researchers recorded data on age, sex, occupation, education, lifestyle behaviours, social networks and leisure activities.
During the follow-up period, 92% of the participants died and half lived longer than 90 years.
Survivors were more likely to be women and highly educated, and to have healthy lifestyles and better social networks.
Smokers died on average one year earlier than non-smokers. But former smokers lived as long as those who never smoked.
Physical activity was strongly associated with survival, and participants who regularly swam, walked or visited the gym were on average two years older at death than those who did not.
Combining the figures for men and women, people with a “low-risk” lifestyle profile survived 5.4 years longer than people categorised as “high risk”.
“Low risk” meant having a healthy lifestyle, participating in at least one leisure activity and having a good circle of friends, said the researchers.
People classified as “high risk” displayed unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, did not participate in leisure activities, and had a limited or poor social network.
Even for people aged 85 or older, or who had chronic conditions, the average age at death was four years higher among “low risk” individuals.
The scientists, led by Debora Rizzuto, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, wrote in the British Medical Journal:
“The associations between leisure activity, not smoking, and increased survival still existed in those aged 75 years or more, with women’s lives prolonged by five years and men’s by six years. “These associations, although attenuated, were still present among people aged 85 or more and in those with chronic conditions. Our results suggest that encouraging favourable lifestyle behaviours even at advanced ages may enhance life expectancy, probably by reducing morbidity (illness).”