Female non-smokers who eat a Mediterranean diet, exercise and keep a healthy weight could live up to 15 years longer, researchers say. Meanwhile, men who follow a similarly healthy regime could add eight years to their lifespans, according to academics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
A Mediterranean diet is high in vegetables, olive oil, fruit, nuts, fish and whole grains but low in meat and alcohol. Combining that with exercise, a healthy weight and avoiding smoking could "substantially reduce" the risks of dying young, researchers reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
The researchers looked at 120,000 men and women who were aged 55 to 69 in 1986 and followed the group until 1996.
The team calculated a "healthy lifestyle score" based on smoking, exercise, weight and diet. Piet van den Brandt, a Professor of epidemiology at Maastricht University who worked on the study, said: "Very few research studies worldwide have analysed the relationship between a combination of lifestyle factors and mortality in this way.
"This study shows that a healthy lifestyle can lead to significant health benefits.
"Furthermore, the effects of a Mediterranean diet were more evident in women than in men.
"Within this diet, nuts, vegetables and alcohol intake had the biggest impact on lower mortality rates."
Barbara Dinsdale, lifestyle manager at Heart Research UK, said: "Eating a Mediterranean diet has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
"Not only that, these diets are lower in bad cholesterol and are helpful in controlling blood-sugar levels.
"All these benefits, together with other factors such as regular exercise and not smoking, help to keep hearts and arteries healthy and reduce the risk of heart disease."