Longevity: Two lifestyle habits that lead to ‘longer survival’ in older age – BMJ study

Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer

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Life is a treacherous gamble: you cannot entirely predict what threats will come along and when. However, research continues to highlight the extent to which you can determine the length of your lifespan. This is because fatal complications are largely the result of poor lifestyle decisions.

A large study published in the British Medical Journal emphasises the agency people have over their lives.

The primary objective of the study was to identify modifiable factors associated with longevity among adults aged 75 and older.

Researchers examined the associations of independent and combinations of various modifiable factors with median age at death in a cohort aged 75 or more years.

The population-based cohort, which was selected from the Kungsholmen Project in central Stockholm, Sweden, was followed for 18 years.

The Kungsholmen Project is a longitudinal population-based study on ageing and dementia, carried out by the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center in collaboration with Aging Research Center (ARC), Karolinska Institutet.

Data on personal characteristics (age, sex, occupation, and education) was obtained from participants through a face to face interview with trained nurses, following standard protocols.

Information on smoking, alcohol consumption, leisure activities and social networks was obtained from prior collected data and through face to face interviews carried out by trained nurses during the baseline survey.

What did the researchers find out?

During follow-up 1661 (91.8 percent) participants died.

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Half of the participants lived longer than 90 years. Half of the current smokers died one year earlier than non-smokers.

Of the leisure activities, physical activity was most strongly associated with survival; the median age at death of participants who regularly swam, walked, or did gymnastics was two years greater than those who did not.

The median survival of people with a low risk profile (healthy lifestyle behaviours, participation in at least one leisure activity, and a rich or moderate social network) was 5.4 years longer than those with a high risk profile (unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, no participation in leisure activities, and a limited or poor social network).

Even among the oldest cohort (85 years or older) and people with chronic conditions, the median age at death was four years higher for those with a low risk profile compared with those with a high risk profile.

“Even after age 75 lifestyle behaviours such as not smoking and physical activity are associated with longer survival,” the researchers concluded.

What’s more, a low risk profile can add five years to women’s lives and six years to men’s, they observed.

“These associations, although attenuated, were also present among the oldest and in people with chronic conditions.”

Why quitting smoking is a no-brainer

Smoking is one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK.

Every year around 78,000 people in the UK die from smoking, with many more living with debilitating smoking-related illnesses.

According to the NHS, smoking increases your risk of developing more than 50 serious health conditions.

“Some may be fatal, and others can cause irreversible long-term damage to your health,” warns the health body.

You can become ill:

  • If you smoke yourself
  • If people around you smoke (passive smoking).

“Your GP can give you information and advice on quitting smoking,” advises the NHS.

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