Healthy lifestyle ‘could add five years to lives of those at risk of dying young’

A healthy lifestyle could add five years to the lives of people who are genetically predisposed to die young, a study has found.Experts analysed more than 350,000 people in the UK and found that healthy habits such as regular exercise, not smoking and eating well could help offset the negative impact of genetics on life expectancy.The researchers said that 20 per cent of the Britons studied had a high genetic risk of a premature death, defined as before the age of 75, but they could add five years and three months to their life with healthy interventions.About 60 per cent of participants had genetics likely to give them an “intermediate” life expectancy, while the remaining 20 per cent had genes linked to a longer than average lifespan.Stalled lifespanLife expectancy in the UK has stalled in the past decade and is now lower than it was pre-pandemic at about 78 and a half years for men and 82 and a half years for women.Those with genes predisposing them to a shorter lifespan were 21 per cent more likely to die before the age of 75 than those predisposed to a longer lifespan, the experts found.The researchers also split the 353,742 participants from the UK Biobank into three groups depending on how healthy their lifestyles were: 23.1 per cent had favourable lifestyles, 55.6 per cent were considered intermediate and 21.3 per cent had unfavourable lifestyles.Over the 13 years researched, about 25,000 people died and the scientists used polygenic risk scores to determine a person’s overall genetic predisposition to a longer or shorter life. The scientists also scored them on their lifestyle across key areas including smoking, alcohol use, exercise, diet, sleep and body shape.They concluded that the genetic risk of a shorter lifespan or premature death could be offset by about 62 per cent if these people followed a healthy lifestyle.Benefits of a good night’s sleepThe “optimal lifestyle combination” for a longer life was found to be “never smoking, regular physical activity, adequate sleep duration and healthy diet”, according to the researchers.Meanwhile, those people with unhealthy lifestyles had a 78 per cent increased chance of an early death on average, but this increased to more than double the chance of death before the age of 75 if they also had the genes predisposing them to a shorter lifespan.“Participants with high genetic risk could prolong approximately 5.22 years of life expectancy at age 40 with a favourable lifestyle,” the researchers wrote.Matt Lambert, a senior health information officer at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This new research shows that, despite genetic factors, living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced nutritious diet and keeping active, can help us live longer. We also know it can reduce the risk of cancer.”He acknowledged that “making healthy changes can be daunting”, but suggested people look at Activ8, the fund’s online healthy living programme.Progress lost in pandemicThe researchers from the Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China and the University of Edinburgh published their findings in the BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine journal.Life expectancy in Britain is about the same as it was a decade ago after the minimal progress made was lost during the pandemic.Recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed that women’s healthy life expectancy, which estimates how many years individuals will be in “very good” or “good” health, fell more among women than men during the pandemic.Women in Wales saw the biggest decline in healthy life expectancy while men in Northern Ireland were the only group not to see any substantial impact.A separate study published last week in the British Journal of General Practice found that a shortage of GPs could be behind the falling life expectancy.The national study of practices in England found that those in areas with more family doctors, and a better chance of seeing the same GP, had a higher life expectancy.

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