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Healthy habits ‘extend disease-free life by a decade’

Smokers and the obese have the worst chances of living a disease-free life

Healthy habits such as drinking in moderation, staying slim and exercising for at least 30 minutes a day could extend people’s disease-free life by up to a decade, researchers have found.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal, included data for more than 110,000 people and looked at cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

The researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences looked at five “low-risk” healthy habits – never smoking, a healthy body mass index (BMI) of 18 to 25, moderate to vigorous physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day, moderate alcohol intake and a healthy diet.

The team then looked at life expectancy free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and how many more disease-free years people could expect from the age of 50.

The results showed that women leading a healthy lifestyle (adopting four or five healthy living factors) had a disease-free life expectancy at 50 of 34.4 more years, taking them to the age of 84 without diabetes, cancer or heart disease.

This compared with just 23.7 more years of disease-free life expectancy from 50 for women who had not adopted any of the elements of a healthy lifestyle.

For men aged 50, those who adopted four or five healthy living factors could expect a further 31.1 years free from disease, compared with just 23.5 years for men who had no healthy lifestyle behaviours.

Men who smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day and obese men and women had the worst chances of living a life free from disease.

Dr Kate Allen, executive director of science and public affairs at the World Cancer Research Fund, told the Guardian that the study further confirms its own research that having a healthy lifestyle lowers your risk of cancer and other diseases.

“We hope the government will be persuaded by the mounting evidence, and take bold, positive steps to protect the nation’s health by making our environments healthier, so that it is easier for people to make healthy choices,” she added.

Prof Jonathan Valabhji, clinical director for diabetes and obesity for the NHS, said: “The NHS long term plan is playing its part through a range of ambitious actions – including piloting low-calorie diets which have been shown can put type 2 diabetes into remission – but people can take simple common sense steps to lead longer and healthier lives.”