4 Keys To Healthy Aging: Study

Following a healthy lifestyle is a lot like collecting compound interest on a loan or investment, one expert says.


  • If you’re only practicing some healthy habits, you could be missing out on the full benefits
  • The four behaviors together seem to produce a compound benefit
  • A study looks at 5,100 middle-aged people to track their health and behaviors

(Health.com) — Everyone knows by now that eating right, exercising, and shunning smoking and other bad habits increases our chances of having a long and healthy life.

If you’re hitting some — but only some — of these goals, it’s better than nothing. But according to a new study, you’re likely missing out on the full benefits that come with living a healthy lifestyle across the board.

In the study[1], which included 5,100 middle-aged British civil servants, those who engaged in four key behaviors — not smoking, moderate drinking, exercising regularly, and eating fruits and vegetables daily — had triple the odds of avoiding disability, chronic disease, or mental health problems over a 16-year period, when compared with people who practiced none of these behaviors.

Each of the four behaviors, practiced on their own, increased the odds of what the researchers termed “successful aging” by 30% to 50%. When practiced together, however, the behaviors seemed to produce a compound benefit greater than the sum of its parts.

Health.com: Superfood secrets for a long and healthy life[2]

“Individual healthy behaviors are moderately associated with successful aging, but their combined impact is quite substantial,” says lead author Sverine Sabia, an epidemiology and public health researcher at University College London in the United Kingdom. “Multiple healthy behaviors appear to increase the chance of reaching old age disease-free and fully functional.”

The findings suggest that following a healthy lifestyle is a lot like collecting compound interest on a loan or investment, says Richard Birkel, senior vice president of health at the National Council on Aging in Washington.

“By treating our bodies with care and avoiding harmful substances over a long period of time, the health effects are compounded,” Birkel says.

“Over time, because we are free of disability and illness and have more energy, we are able to live more fully and take on more challenges. … There seems to be a virtuous chain reaction in which small positives lead to a critical mass of health and well-being.”

Health.com: Quiz: How long will you live?[3]

The idea that healthy behaviors can amplify each other might seem like common sense. (If you exercise daily but eat only fast food, for instance, you’re probably not getting maximal results.) But the new research is noteworthy for its scope and its attempt to quantify the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

The study is among the first of its kind to examine the outcomes associated with combinations of behaviors in midlife, rather than specific health measures (such as body mass index) that reflect those behaviors, says S. Jay Olshansky,a professor of public health at the Center on Aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

What’s more, the outcomes used in the study were unusually comprehensive. Sabia and her colleagues defined successful aging using five separate dimensions of health: cognitive, mental, physical, respiratory, and cardiovascular. This is a “real strength,” Birkel says.

Health.com: Defy your age inside and out [4]

A holistic measure like successful aging “defines a state of being, rather than a set of isolated health outcomes,” Birkel adds. “This is, of course, the status we all aspire to as we age — not just absence of disease or chronic conditions, but having good mental health and being independent and active.”

The study, which was published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, did have some important limitations. For one, it was an observational study, meaning it shows an association and does not establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the various health behaviors and outcomes.

And given that some of the participants were only 60 years old at the conclusion of the study, it’s hard to know whether the findings — especially those regarding mental functioning — will remain steady with time, says Dr. Clinton Wright, a neurologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

Health.com: The best anti-aging secrets [5]

Still, says Birkel, the findings are “very good and reassuring news,” and make a strong argument for adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors no matter how old you are.

Copyright Health Magazine[6] 2011


  1. ^ study (www.cmaj.ca)
  2. ^ Health.com: Superfood secrets for a long and healthy life (www.health.com)
  3. ^ Health.com: Quiz: How long will you live? (www.health.com)
  4. ^ Health.com: Defy your age inside and out (www.health.com)
  5. ^ Health.com: The best anti-aging secrets (www.health.com)
  6. ^ Health Magazine (www.health.com)

Original Story Here


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  1. Reply

    Healthy Lifestyle? I usually go on a medium intensity run for 60 minutes a day, four to five days a week. In addition, I do a total of at least 150 push ups and sit ups in each work out. I don’t consume more than 1500-1600 calories a day. I eat little to no junk food, and take my vitamins. I’m 18, male, and weigh about 164, around 14 to 15 percent body fat. Do I lead a healthy lifestyle? If there are ways to improve, let me know.

      • HealthNut
      • October 22, 2012

      I think you are doing very well. Never give it up and try to maintain it as your lifestyle.

      Good Luck

  2. Reply

    Healthy Lifestyle? I need help with my health hw, so if any of you could help with these questions thanks!

    What does it mean to live a healthy lifestyle?
    What should I eat and how often?
    How often should I exercise?
    What type of exercise?
    How hard should I exercise?
    How much time should I spend exercising?
    How much sleep should I get each night?
    How do I deal with stress?
    How should I manage stress?

      • HealthNut
      • October 22, 2012

      http://Www.sparkpeople.com has all your answers.

  3. Reply

    Healthy Lifestyle………? I wanna start a healthy lifestyle but I dunno where to start, can you please help? I’d really appreciate that and by the way, I’m 16.

      • HealthNut
      • October 22, 2012

      Begin by giving up fast food it is so full of fat, sugar, carbs, and all the wrong things for you. My daughter gave up soda and lost 20 pounds because it is loaded with sugar. Eat fish not fried 2 to 3 times a week, chicken 2 to 3 times a week skinless, lots of vegetables, and fruit and you will be getting there.

  4. Reply

    What Is A Healthy Lifestyle For A 30 Year Old Male Adult? What foods should he be eating to be healthy?
    What can he do to become fit?

    Please also give me some tips on what a healthy lifestyle would be.

      • HealthNut
      • October 22, 2012

      Ummmm… these don’t seem like really hard questions

      foods= fruits, vegetables, meat (not too much), whole grains
      male adults should avoid eating too much sugar because sugar begets wrinkles

      fit?= get exercise, stop watching the TV and sitting on the damn sofa
      i recommend not eating late too

      pretty much common sense

      here’s my question about my apparent lack of a refractory period…

  5. Reply

    How Can I Pursue A More Healthy Lifestyle To Help Me Attain My Maximum Potential In Life ? I am 28, and have always had a bad health because of depression and anxiety. But I want to change it I need some tips on how to pursue a really healthy lifestyle which helps people in their mental and physical wellbeing?

      • HealthNut
      • October 22, 2012

      Two of the healthiest diets in the world are the Mediterranean diet and the Okinawa diet.

      Yoga often helps for anxiety and depression as it promotes mental and physical wellbeing.

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