Researchers Discover How Nearly Everybody Can Increase Their Lifespan

Scientists discovered that adopting five or more healthy lifestyle practices boosted life expectancy even in those over the age of 80 and notably, people with chronic health conditions.

Osaka University researchers discovered that adjusting lifestyle behaviors can have a significant impact on lifespan, even in those with chronic health issues.

Ever since the beginning of civilization, humans have wanted to live longer. Whether it be the Fountain of Youth, Gilgamesh’s secret plant of immortality, or the elixir of life, the idea of immortality is incredibly prevalent in humanity’s oldest and most well-known stories. 

Unfortunately, immortality is only a myth. The average lifespan in the United States is nearly 79 years and it is unlikely to increase dramatically in the next few years. Still, scientists have been researching how to increase our longevity and have found promising results. 

Idioms and proverbs emphasizing the significance of good health have been passed down for centuries. Many emphasize how closely health is linked to happiness and the ability to live a full and joyful life. A study published in Age and Ageing on May 11, 2022, by The Japan Collaborate Cohort (JACC) Study group at Osaka University examined the impact of adjusting lifestyle habits on life expectancy from middle age onwards.  The researchers discovered that adopting five or more healthy lifestyle behaviors boosted life expectancy even in those over the age of 80, and, importantly, including those with chronic conditions.

Lifespan is influenced by social factors such as socioeconomic level, policy factors such as subsidized healthcare access, and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. The current study used a baseline survey from the JACC study, a large research effort involving 49,021 people performed in 45 locations in Japan from 1988 to 1990. The goal was to learn about what variables that lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease death, therefore the questionnaire included questions on diet, exercise, alcohol use, smoking status, sleep duration, and body mass index. Each healthy activity was given a point, and the impact of changing these lifestyle habits on the expected lifetime was evaluated.

The study continued until December 2009, by which time 8,966 individuals had died. The study’s primary author, Dr. Ryoto Sakaniwa said. “The results were very clear. A higher number of modified healthy behaviors was directly associated with great longevity for both men and women.” The lifetime gains were highest for reducing alcohol intake, not smoking, losing weight, and increasing sleep, adding up to 6 years of life for healthy 40-year-olds.

This benefit was prominent even among older individuals (80 years or more) and those with one or more major comorbidities including cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, and kidney disease, and in each life stage from middle age onwards. “This is a particularly important finding given that the prevalence of chronic diseases has increased globally and is a major cause of death in older populations,” says Senior author, Prof. Hiroyasu Iso. This is one of the first studies to measure the impact of improvements to health behavior among older individuals in a country with a national life expectancy achieving almost 85 years.

The finding that lifestyle improvements have a positive impact on health despite chronic health conditions and older age is an empowering one, especially given the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and longer life. The findings of this study will contribute to the design of future healthcare settings, public health approaches, and policies that work in partnership with patients to promote healthy lifestyle choices.

Reference: “Impact of modifiable healthy lifestyle adoption on lifetime gain from middle to older age” by Ryoto Sakaniwa, Midori Noguchi, Hironori Imano, Kokoro Shirai, Akiko Tamakoshi, Hiroyasu Iso and The JACC Study Group, 11 May 2022, Age and Ageing
DOI: 10.1093/ageing/afac080

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