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Why a healthy lifestyle could be the key to living longer

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PARIS, May 4 — While scientists have yet to discover the secret of eternal youth, they are increasingly interested in the impact of lifestyle on longevity.

Various studies have recently highlighted a link between healthy habits and life expectancy, but a team of researchers from China and Scotland now reports that a healthy lifestyle may even compensate for poor genetic predisposition.

Are we really masters of our own destiny? If a recent study by researchers at Zhejiang University Medical School in China and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland is anything to go by, you’d better believe it. Involving more than 350,000 adults, the study suggests that a healthy lifestyle — including a balanced diet, regular physical activity and no smoking — can offset the effects of life-shortening genes by more than 60 per cent. These findings underline the importance of making the right choices on a daily basis to stay healthy longer, and gain a few extra years of life.

For the purposes of their research, the scientists used data from 353,742 adults, recruited via the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2010, whose health status was monitored until 2021, as well as several associated studies.

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Polygenic risk scores, which determine genetic predisposition to living longer or not, were calculated, as was a score associated with a healthy lifestyle, based on criteria such as not currently smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, a balanced diet, regular physical activity and quality sleep. More than 24,000 participants died during the course of the study.

Published in the journal, BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine, the study suggests that participants genetically predisposed to a shorter life were 21 per cent more likely to die prematurely than those genetically predisposed to a longer life expectancy, irrespective of the lifestyle adopted during their lifetime.

Despite certain limitations, such as the fact that lifestyle was assessed only once during the study, or the lack of diversity among participants, this research reports that a healthy lifestyle can counterbalance the genetic risk of a shorter life expectancy or premature death by more than 60 per cent.

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Five extra years

The researchers go even further, estimating that participants with a high genetic risk associated with a shorter lifespan could see that lifespan extended by around 5.5 years at the age of 40 thanks to a healthy lifestyle.

This finding suggests, however, that the adoption of healthy habits needs to take place as early as possible to see such a significant increase in life expectancy.

It should also be noted that certain lifestyle habits were particularly important, such as not smoking, taking exercise, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet.

“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,” the study authors state in a news release.

Among other findings, participants whose lifestyle was not considered healthy were 78 per cent more likely to die prematurely than those who had adopted good habits, regardless of their genetic predisposition.

In August last year, a similar study, conducted on over 700,000 people aged between 40 and 99, suggested that adopting eight healthy habits by the age of 40, at the latest, enabled men to live an average of 24 years longer, and women 21 years longer, than those who adopted none of them.

Again, these involved being physically active, not smoking, managing stress, eating well, sleeping well, not drinking alcohol excessively on a regular basis, not being dependent on opioids, and maintaining positive social relationships. — ETX Studio

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