Exercise. Eat right. Don’t smoke. It’s the trifecta of “well, duh” advice for healthy living. And according to new research from the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and Stanford University, if you follow all three of these rules, your chances of living a longer, healthier life are substantially higher.
“We found that subjects who didn’t smoke, remained active and maintained a healthy body mass index had almost a 50 percent better chance of reaching the age of 85 than those who had at least two of these risk factors,” said OMRF scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D., the lead author of the study.
In the study, researchers followed 2,327 graduates from the 1939 and 1940 classes of the University of Pennsylvania to determine how lifestyle habits affected disability and mortality rates. The researchers began tracking the subjects annually when they were in their mid-60s and continued for another 19 years.
“We wanted to know if they smoked, if they exercised and if they were overweight,” Chakravarty said. “We found that the more risk factors people had, the more likely they were to die or become disabled in some way.”
Subjects with fewer risk factors delayed the onset of moderate disability by an average of 8 years. And those that became disabled were most likely to die later in the study.
The researchers found that the health differences between those in low-risk and high-risk groups grew more significant as the participants aged. While smoking had the greatest influence on whether a person was likely to become disabled or die, each factor made a difference.
“Every increment towards a healthier lifestyle makes an improvement,” said Chakravarty. “You don’t have to be totally perfect starting right this very second. Making a single change increases the odds of staying healthier longer.”
This research, published in The American Journal of Medicine, follows other studies done by this same group of researchers examining the impact of behavior on disability and life expectancy.
“In 2008, we published a paper showing that as they aged, runners had much lower disability rates than those who are inactive,” said Chakravarty. That study, she said, demonstrated a significant decrease in disability—and increase in life expectancy—for those who maintained a vigorous exercise routine. Not only did the runners show lower levels of cardiovascular disease, but they were also less likely to die from infections, cancer or neurological diseases
“Still, even if you can’t exercise, you can still eat better and quit smoking,” she said. “Whatever your risk factors are, eliminating one can make a difference in putting off disability and possibly death.”