People with healthy lifestyles live 6 years longer: Rotterdam Study

A jogger exercising along the Veemkade in Amsterdam on a warm summer's day, 29 June 2018
A jogger exercising along the Veemkade in Amsterdam on a warm summer's day, 29 June 2018. (Photo: Zachary Newmark / NL Times)

People with a healthy lifestyle - who don't smoke, are not overweight, and have healthy blood pressure - on average live six years longer than people with a more unhealthy lifestyle, according to the interim results of a long-term Rotterdam population study, NOS reports.

For the Rotterdam Study, Dutch researchers tracked the health of the over 9 thousand residents of the Ommoord district between 1989 and 2012. According to research leader and epidemiologist of Erasmus MC Afram Ikram, this study showed for the first time "with hard data" that there is a clear relationship between lifestyle and the risk of contracting one or more life threatening diseases. 

For similar studies, a computer model is usually used or researchers look at only one disease, Ikram said. In the Rotterdam Study, the researchers looked at the diseases that, according to the World Health Organization, most often lead to death - cancer, degenerative brain diseases (dementia), heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung diseases.

One of the things the researchers paid attention to, is when someone was diagnosed with one of those diseases for the first time. On average, people who are overweight, smoke and have high blood pressure are diagnosed with one of these deadly diseases nine years earlier than those with a healthier lifestyle. Their lifespan is also six years shorter on average than people with a healthy lifestyle.

In over a quarter of the cases, unhealthy individuals are first diagnosed with heart disease. For people with a healthy lifestyle, the chance of heart disease is almost 10 percent lower. Among healthy people, cancer is most often the first disease - in almost a third of the cases.

The biggest difference between the two groups is the chance of dementia being the first diagnosed major disease. For almost 20 percent of people with a healthy lifestyle, dementia is the first major condition they get. Among unhealthy people, it is just over 4 percent.

According to Ikram, this has to do with healthy people generally falling ill later than unhealthy people, which means that the chance of contracting an old-age disease like dementia is more likely. "They have already prevented other diseases with their lifestyles. You will obviously die of something. But if you live healthy, you can enjoy a life without disease for longer."

The researchers also found that 9 out of 10 people over the age of 45 - with both healthy and unhealthy lifestyles - will ultimately be diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

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