Vast study shows healthy living could prolong the lives of some by five years

Never smoking, regular physical activity and diet amoung factors in a healthy lifestyle

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 30 April 2024 01:02 BST

Healthy living could outweigh genes which cause some to have shorter lives and help prolong their life by five years, scientists have found.

In the first study of its kind, experts explored how the odds of survival can be improved through exercise, a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and not smoking, despite the huge influence of genetics.

The study involved 353,742 people from the UK Biobank and showed that those with a high genetic risk of a shorter life have a 21 per cent increased risk of early death compared with those with a low genetic risk, regardless of their lifestyle.

Meanwhile, people with unhealthy lifestyles have a 78 per cent increased chance of early death, regardless of their genetic risk.

The study also found that having both an unhealthy lifestyle and shorter lifespan genes more than doubled the risk of early death compared with people with luckier genes and healthy lifestyles.

However, researchers found that people did appear to have a degree of control over their longevity.

Their findings showed that the genetic risk of a shorter lifespan or premature death might be offset by a favourable lifestyle by around 62 per cent.

They said: “Participants with high genetic risk could prolong approximately 5.22 years of life expectancy at age 40 with a favourable lifestyle.”

The “optimal lifestyle combination” for a longer life was found to be “never smoking, regular physical activity, adequate sleep duration, and healthy diet.”

Published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine, the study followed people for 13 years on average, during which time 24,239 deaths occurred.

People were grouped into three genetically determined lifespan categories including long (20.1 per cent), intermediate (60.1 per cent), and short (19.8 per cent), and into three lifestyle score categories including favourable (23.1 per cent), intermediate (55.6 per cent), and unfavourable (21.3 per cent).

Researchers used polygenic risk scores to look at multiple genetic variants to arrive at a person’s overall genetic predisposition to a longer or shorter life.

Other scores looked at whether people smoked, drank alcohol, took exercise, their body shape, healthy diet and sleep.

The researchers included staff from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China and the University of Edinburgh.

They said: “This study elucidates the pivotal role of a healthy lifestyle in mitigating the impact of genetic factors on lifespan reduction.”

“Public health policies for improving healthy lifestyles would serve as potent complements to conventional healthcare and mitigate the influence of genetic factors on human lifespan.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in