July 20 (UPI) -- Researchers have found having a healthy lifestyle and not engaging in risky behaviors can increase a person's life expectancy by up to seven years.
"Improvements in medical technology are often thought to be the gatekeeper to healthier, longer life," Mikko Myrskylä, director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, said in a news release. "We showed that a healthy lifestyle, which costs nothing, is enough to enable individuals to enjoy a very long and healthy life."
"A moderately healthy lifestyle is enough to get the benefits. Avoiding becoming obese, not smoking, and consuming alcohol moderately is not an unrealistic goal."
The study, published July 20 in Health Affairs, of more than 14,000 people in the United States between the ages of 50 and 89 from 1998 to 2012 found that people who never smoked and who were not obese lived four to five years longer than the general population.
Researchers also found that the extended life expectancy was free of disability and that individuals who consumed alcohol in moderation lived seven more years than the general population -- with a total life expectancy surpassing the Japanese, who are renowned for their long life expectancy.
"The most positive result is that the number of years that we have to live with physical limitations does not increase as we gain more years through healthy lifestyle. Instead, healthy lifestyle is associated with a strong increase in physically fit years. In other words, the years we gain through a healthy lifestyle are years in good health," Myrskylä said.
The study found men who were not overweight, never smoked and drank in moderation lived an average of 11 years longer than men who smoked, were overweight and drank excessively. The gap for women was even greater at 12 years.
"Our results show how important it is to focus on prevention. Those who avoid risky health behaviours are achieving very long and healthy lives. Effective policy interventions targeting health behaviors could help larger fractions of the population to achieve the health benefits observed in this study," Myrskylä said.