Women can gain 10 and men seven years of life free of cancer, heart problems and type-2 diabetes from a healthy lifestyle, a study in the BMJ suggests.
They must exercise regularly, drink in moderation only, have a healthy weight and good diet and not smoke.
The US research is based on 111,000 people tracked for more than 20 years.
Lead author Dr Frank Hu, of Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, said the study had “a positive message for the public”.
“They gain not just more years of life but good years through improved lifestyle choices.”
What is a healthy lifestyle?
At the age of 50, study participants were asked if they met at least four of these five criteria:
- never smoking
- a healthy, balanced diet
- 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity every day
- a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9
- no more alcohol than a small glass of wine a day for women and a pint of beer for men
Women who said they met four out of five lived an average of another 34 years free of cancer, cardiovascular disease (such as heart attack and stroke) and type-2 diabetes – more than 10 years longer than those who did not.
For healthy men, it meant another 31 years of disease-free life – more than seven years extra than unhealthy men could expect.
Why the difference between women and men?
It may be linked to the fact women live longer than men on average.
Men who smoked more than 15 cigarettes a day and obese men and women (with a BMI of more than 30) had the lowest disease-free life expectancy, the study found.
But some things were true for both sexes – not only did a healthy lifestyle reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes, it also improved survival if men and women were diagnosed with any of the diseases.