The United States witnessed a significant increase in life expectancy over the 20th century with much of the improvement attributed to improved sanitation, vaccinations, medications, and access to healthcare. In addition, significant improvements in lifestyle factors were also noted including nutrition, smoking cessation, and exercise. Exercise plays a unique role in aging due to its’ ability to not only extend the lifespan but also improve the quality of those years lived. Many of us would turn down additional years at the end of our lives if they could not be lived in a manner consistent with our beliefs. In short, quality becomes just as important as quantity of years. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association identified the most important factors to extend the quality of years with disease free living.
Nyberg and colleagues conducted a large prospective cohort study on the association between an individual’s lifestyle choices and their years of disease free living (JAMA Internal Medicine. 2020). They recruited 116,043 participants (61% female) who were free of major disease and followed them over a 15 year period. Authors aimed to determine which lifestyle factors were most associated with the development of future diseases. They reported 17,383 participants were diagnosed with a major medical diagnosis over the study period. Conversely, the article reported four lifestyle behaviors were associated with the lowest risk of disease development in adulthood including a body mass index (BMI) < 25 and at least two of the following three factors: non smoker, moderate physical activity, and moderate alcohol consumption.
Certainly, outside factors including genetics, environment, and sometimes luck play a role in disease development, but individuals are encouraged to address the intrinsic factors most under their control. Readers are encouraged to maintain a healthy weight, refrain from smoking, limit alcohol consumption, and meet national exercise guidelines.