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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Harvard: Following Healthy Lifestyle Habits at Middle Age May Increase Years Lived Free of Chronic Diseases

Maintaining five healthy habits — eating a healthy dietexercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking—at middle-age may increase years lived free of type 2 diabetescardiovascular disease, and cancer, according to a new study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published online January 8, 2020 in BMJ. It is a follow-up and extension of a 2018 study, which found that following these habits increased overall life expectancy.

“Previous studies have found that following a healthy lifestyle improves overall life expectancy and reduces risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease,” said first author Dr. Yanping Li, senior research scientist in the Department of Nutrition. “This study provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.”

The researchers found that women who practiced four or five of the healthy habits at age 50 lived an average of 34.4 more years free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, compared to 23.7 healthy years among women who practiced none of these healthy habits. Men practicing four or five healthy habits at age 50 lived 31.1 years free of chronic disease, compared to 23.5 years among men who practiced none. Men who were current heavy smokers, and men and women with obesity, had the lowest disease-free life expectancy.

Public policies to promote a healthy lifestyle by improving food and physical environments would help to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life,” said senior author Dr. Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair, Department of Nutrition.

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