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Longevity Lifestyle Weight and Obesity

Avoiding Risky Health Behaviors Can Increase Lifespan by 7 Years

11 months, 3 weeks ago

6000  0
Posted on Aug 01, 2017, 8 a.m.

Study shows that those who do not smoke, are not obese, and consume alcohol moderately can live 7 years longer than the general population - spending most of these extra years in good health.

A new study shows those who avoid risky health behaviors tend to live a long life. Perhaps more importantly, those extra years are characterized by good health. Examples of such “risky health behaviors” include smoking, consuming an excess of alcohol and eating to the point of reaching obesity. The study's results show avoiding such behaviors leads to an increased lifespan of seven years. The study's details were recently published in Health Affairs. Mikko Myrskyla, the Director of Germany's Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, and Neil Mehta, a University of Michigan professor, spearheaded the study.

Study Details

The study examined data for over 14,000 individuals living in the United States. It determined those who never smoked and did not become obese lived between four and five years longer than the rest of the population. These additional years were not plagued by disabilities. It was also determined those who consumed alcohol in moderation enjoyed an extended lifespan of seven disability-free years. In fact, these individuals enjoyed a life expectancy beyond that of those living in Japan, a nation that is commonly considered to be the best example of how healthy living leads to an extended life.

Why the Findings are Important

Most people think advancements in medical technology are a primary determinant of lifespan and health. However, this study shows a healthy lifestyle can extend lifespan and improve health. The bottom line is those who avoid smoking and obesity while limiting alcohol consumption will enjoy considerable health and lifespan benefits.

Why This Study is Unique 

This study is a trailblazer of sorts as it is the first to study the aggregate impact of numerous health behaviors on total life expectancy as well as one's odds for being afflicted by disabilities. Prior studies examined single health behaviors. Myrskyla and Mehta studied an array of behaviors to determine lifespan and level of health for those who avoided the most common behavioral risk factors.

Points of Note

The pair of researchers found smoking, obesity and consuming an excess of alcohol were tied to reduced life expectancy as well as an earlier occurrence of numerous disabilities. It was determined that smoking was tied to an early death yet not with an increase in the number of years in which people were plagued with disabilities. Obesity is tied to an extensive period of time in which people are plagued with disabilities. Excessive consumption of alcohol is tied to a reduced lifespan and a reduction in the number of years spent in good health.

The most surprising finding was the massive difference in the average lifespan between the groups that were most at risk and least at risk. Men who avoided obesity, did not smoke and only drank at moderation lived 11 years longer than those who smoked, drank in excess and were overweight. For women, the difference between these groups was 12 years. People will be happy to know the number of years in which one lives with physical limitations does not increase as he gains more years with a healthy way of life. Rather, a healthy way of life is linked to a solid increase in physically fit years. This means the years one gains through a healthy lifestyle are years characterized by good health.


This study's results show just how important it is for people to key in on prevention. Avoid the risky health behaviors noted above and the odds of a long and healthy life dramatically increase. Furthermore, policy interventions to target health behaviors might help significant portions of the population to enjoy the health benefits noted in the study.

Neil Mehta, Mikko Myrskyl�. The Population Health Benefits Of A Healthy Lifestyle: Life Expectancy Increased And Onset Of Disability Delayed. Health Affairs, 2017; 10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1569 DOI: 10.1377/hlthaff.2016.1569

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