You may be referring to results of a British study published in September 2020 showing that practicing very healthy lifestyle habits can add years to life even among people who already have serious health problems. The researchers from the University of Leicester noted that worldwide, the number of people living with two or more long-term physical or mental health conditions is rapidly increasing and that these individuals generally have poor health outcomes and a higher than normal risk of death.
For their investigation they analyzed data from nearly 500,000 adults ranging in age from 38 to 73 and followed 93,736 mid-life adults who had two or more of 36 chronic conditions for up to nine years taking into consideration their leisure-time physical activity, alcohol use, smoking and diet. Based on these findings, they scored the participants lifestyle as: “very unhealthy,” “unhealthy,” “healthy'” and “very healthy.”
They reported that among men with multiple chronic conditions, an unhealthy lifestyle score was linked to a non-significant gain of 1.5 years of life at age 45 compared to those with a very unhealthy score, while a very healthy lifestyle score was linked to a statistically significant gain of 6.3 years.
The most common conditions among men were high blood pressure, asthma, cancer, diabetes and angina. Among women, the most common conditions were high blood pressure, asthma, cancer, depression and migraine. Here, an “unhealthy score” was linked with living 3.5 years longer than individuals with a “very unhealthy score,” while women with “very healthy” scores demonstrated gains that were up to 7.6 years higher.
Not surprisingly, the study found that the largest survival benefit was related to smoking. At age 45 the life expectancy of current smokers was five to six years less than that of non-smokers.
They noted that the study’s limitations included its observational nature and the facts that participants were more affluent than the general UK population and were 95 percent white. However, they found that lifestyle changes recommended to reduce the risk of developing chronic long-term health problems apply to individuals who already have chronic conditions as well as to those seeking to remain healthy.
Bottom line: It’s never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Yogini V. Chudasama et al, “Healthy lifestyle and life expectancy in people with multimorbidity in the UK Biobank: A longitudinal cohort study,” PLOS Medicine, September 22, 2020, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1003332