Washington: Leading a healthy lifestyle may not only extend one’s lifespan, but also shorten the time that is spent disabled, new research has found.
The finding demonstrates the value of investing in healthy lifestyle promotion, even among the elderly, researchers said.
An analysis of a quarter century of data by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh in the US and colleagues showed that older adults with the healthiest lifestyles could expect to spend about 1.7 fewer years disabled at the end of their lives, compared to their unhealthiest counterparts.
“The duration of the disabled period near the end of one’s life has enormous personal and societal implications, ranging from quality of life to health care costs,” said senior author Anne B Newman.
“We discovered that, fortunately, by improving lifestyle we can postpone both death and disability. In fact, it turns out that we’re compressing that disabled end-of-life period,” said Newman.
Newman and her colleagues examined data collected by the Cardiovascular Health Study, which followed 5,888 adults for 25 years.
All of the participants were aged 65 or older and were not institutionalised or wheelchair-dependent when they enrolled.
The participants reported or were assessed for various lifestyle factors, including smoking habits, alcohol consumption, physical activity, diet, weight and their social support system.
The researchers took into account and adjusted results for such factors as participants’ age, sex, race, education, income, marital status and chronic health conditions.
Across all the participants, the average number of disabled years directly preceding death – years when the person had difficulty eating, bathing, toileting, dressing, getting out of bed or a chair, or walking around the home – averaged 4.5 years for women and 2.9 years for men.
For each gender and race group, those with the healthiest lifestyle (those who were nonsmokers of a healthy weight and diet and getting regular exercise) not only lived longer, but had fewer disabled years at the end of their lives.
For example, a white man in the healthiest lifestyle group could expect to live 4.8 years longer than his counterpart in the unhealthiest group, and at the end of his life, he would likely spend only two of those years disabled, compared to 3.7 years for his unhealthy counterpart.
“This clearly demonstrates the great value of investing in the promotion of a healthy lifestyle and encouraging people to maintain healthy behaviours into old age,” said lead author Mini E Jacob.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.