Lifestyle changes in adulthood have a big effect

Health-related lifestyle changes between the ages of 50 and 54 can reduce the risk of premature death by close to 70 per cent. The most important beneficial change is smoking cessation, according to a recent study from the Cancer Registry of Norway and Telemark Hospital.

Published 04.07.2016

 "This study shows that people over 50, with a lifestyle that is not in accordance with health recommendations, can benefit particularly greatly from changing their lifestyle for the better," says researcher Paula Berstad at the Cancer Registry.

NRK: Lifestyle changes after the age of 50 can extend life expectancy

Together with colleagues, she has tried to find correlations between lifestyle and premature death through surveys, and the researchers found that mortality was lowest for people who met at least three out of four selected health recommendations.

"Most people now know that there is a connection between a healthy lifestyle and good health and a long life. What we know little about, however, is the effect lifestyle changes have on older adults," says Berstad.

Lifestyle surveyed in 4200 people

In the study, a randomly selected group of men and women between the ages of 50 and 54, living in either Oslo or Telemark, were asked to complete a questionnaire about their lifestyle first in 2001 and then again in 2004.

In the first round, 4211 people responded to the questionnaire. In both rounds, the participants were asked the same questions about their body weight and habits for smoking, exercise and diet. Subsequently, deaths and causes of death were registered until the end of 2013.

"We saw that mortality in this study population was low, as it should be in this age group. Nevertheless, we found that the health-related lifestyle was associated with mortality. We found that mortality was lowest among those who responded that they lived a healthy life, while those who did not meet any recommendations had the highest mortality rate. This applied to death due to both cancer and cardiovascular disease," explains Berstad.

The researchers used four health recommendations as targets in the study. These were:

  • Do not smoke
  • Normal body weight – BMI below 25
  • Exercising daily
  • Diet that follows selected national guidelines
    • At least five servings of fruits, berries and vegetables per day
    • Oily fish at least once a week
    • Red or processed meat for dinner a maximum of three times per week

Large difference in mortality

It turned out that those who did not meet any of the health recommendations at the start of the study, or who only met one of them, had a lot to gain from increasing the number of recommended lifestyle factors before the next round of questions.

There was a large difference in mortality for the group that had made changes compared to those who had not. For those who met at least two out of four recommendations after three years, mortality was as much as 69 per cent lower than for those who had continued with a lifestyle that did not meet the health recommendations.

"Those who changed their lifestyle were probably very motivated. It's not just easy to make such fundamental changes at a mature age. But they have benefited from this in the form of lower mortality," says researcher Paula Berstad.

Nevertheless, those who already met at the start of the study met at least two of the health recommendations, and who continued to do so over the next three years, had the highest probability of survival.

"This shows once again that health, lifestyle and mortality are closely linked – and that it makes sense to lay a good foundation early. In fact, not a very large proportion of the participants managed to make changes – only about 20 percent went from meeting one or zero of the health requirements to meeting two or more," Berstad emphasizes.