Can a Healthy Lifestyle Really Add Years to Your Life?

Everyone wants to know the secret to longevity, but the answer may be hiding in plain sight. New research published in the journal BMJ indicates that adhering to a healthy lifestyle can increase the lifespan of older adults, and many of those additional years can be lived with a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The study involved 2,449 adults aged 65 and older who were part of the Chicago Health and Aging Project. The findings showed that, at age 65, women with the healthiest lifestyle had an average life expectancy of 24 years, versus 21 years for women categorized as less healthy. For men the difference was even greater, with the healthiest lifestyles living an additional 23 years, compared to 17 years for those men deemed less healthy.

To standardize what it means to live a “healthy lifestyle,” the study’s researchers developed a scoring system that encompassed five health-related behaviors: diet, cognitive activity, physical activity, smoking, and alcohol consumption. If a participant met the health standard for that particular behavior he or she was awarded one point, if not, he or she received no points. The points were then summed for each of the five categories, resulting in a final score between 0 to 5, with the higher scores representing a healthier overall lifestyle.

The study concluded that a healthy lifestyle was associated with a longer life expectancy among both men and women, and that participants scoring a 4 or 5 lived with Alzheimer’s for fewer years than those participants who scored a 1 or 0. These results highlight the importance of maintaining healthy habits later in life, especially for individuals over the age of 65.

For older Americans, starting or recommitting to a healthy lifestyle isn’t always easy. Habits develop over a lifetime, which makes them difficult to alter or change. The Healthy Monday concept is designed for individuals who are looking to slowly incorporate more healthy behaviors into their daily lives and routines.

Taking small steps toward greater wellness goals is the preferred way to achieve long-lasting behavior change. The Monday Campaigns offers a number of different series, each targeting an element of the healthy lifestyle described in the research above. For healthy eating, there’s the Meatless Monday Challenge; for physical activity, there’s the Move It Monday Find Time to Fit in Fitness series; and for tobacco cessation, the Quit and Stay Quit Monday Intro to Quitting Package. Used together, this simple-to-use messaging can help individuals and organizations restart and maintain important habits that can lead to a longer, healthier life.