Four healthy behaviours may add 14 years to lifespan

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists have found that adopting four healthy behaviours - regular exercise, not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption and eating five daily portions of fruit and vegetables - can add 14 years to a person's life.

The study is part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) and represents the first time the combined impact of these four behaviours, which have usually been investigated in isolation, has been determined.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council - funded by Cancer Research UK - suggest that simple lifestyle changes could therefore have a major impact on health and life expectancy.

The study, which is published in the Public Library of Science (PLoS) Medicine journal, analysed 20,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 79 who were living in Norfolk.

None of the patients had been diagnosed with cancer or circulatory disease at the start of the research.

After filling in a questionnaire, participants were awarded a health behaviour score of between zero and four, with one point awarded for each of the four listed health behaviours.

Physical inactivity was defined as having a sedentary job and doing no exercise; moderate alcohol intake was deemed to be between one and 14 units per week; and fruit and vegetable consumption was estimated by measuring individuals' blood vitamin C levels.

The results show that people with a score of zero were four times more likely to die within an 11-year follow-up period than those with a score of four.

In fact, people with a health score of zero were as likely to die as someone 14 years older with a score of four.

The researchers noted that further studies are needed to confirm the results but suggest that the health of middle-aged and older people could be markedly improved by adopting these four lifestyle changes.

Dr Joanna Owens, Cancer Research UK's senior science information officer, said: "This is the first study to examine how beneficial the combined lifestyle factors of not smoking, a high fruit and vegetable diet, reduced alcohol intake and being physically active might be to staying healthy.

"The results show that making healthy lifestyle choices do have a combined positive effect on health and can help people to live longer.

"Research tells us that around half of all cancers could be prevented by changes to lifestyle. Cancer Research UK's Reduce the Risk campaign promotes the benefits of healthy choices, including giving up smoking, eating more fruit and vegetables, drinking less alcohol, and taking regular exercise."