New research reveals that healthy behavior in midlife can significantly improve the well-being of individuals as they age.
Investigators observed that combining behaviors such as not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, exercise, and eating fruits and vegetables daily makes it significantly more likely people will stay healthy as they age.
The study is published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ).
“Our study shows the cumulative impact of healthy behaviors on successful aging — the greater the number of healthy behaviors, the greater the benefit,” writes Séverine Sabia, Ph.D., with the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London.
Successful aging was defined as maintaining the ability to function well with good mobility, cognitive skills, respiratory function, mental health and no chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke or disability at age 60 years or older.
Normal aging included people who were alive at the end of the 16-year study but who had chronic disease and/or lower scores on functioning and mental health.
“Among members of a large cohort of British men and women 42-63 years of age at baseline, all four healthy behaviors examined during midlife … were associated with greater odds of successfully aging during a 16-year follow-up,” write the authors.
“Compared with participants who engaged in no healthy behaviors, those who engaged in all four healthy behaviors had greater odds of aging successfully.”
Researchers in the UK and France studied 5,100 men and women from the Whitehall II public health survey who did not have cancer, heart disease or stroke in the assessment phase from 1991 to 1994. They then followed this cohort from 2007 to 2009.
Of the total participants, 549 died during follow-up, and 953 were classified as successfully aging while the remaining people aged normally.
People in the successfully aging group were younger than the normally aging group (mean age 49.7 versus 51.3 years), and 81 percent were married compared with 78 percent in the second group and 71 percent in the deceased group.
Education appears to play a role in aging as successful agers were more likely to have higher education than the normally aging group (32 percent v. 24 percent ) and 18 percent in the deceased group.
In the study population, five percent of people did not engage in any of the four healthy behaviors.
“Although individual healthy behaviors are moderately associated with successful aging, their combined impact is quite substantial. Multiple healthy behaviors appear to increase the chance of reaching old age disease-free and fully functional in an additive manner,” concluded the authors.
The take-home message is a healthy lifestyle includes exercise, diet, moderate alcohol consumption and not smoking. The good news is that following this path of good behavior is linked to successful aging.