Healthy lifestyle may offset genetics by 60% and add five years to life, study says | Medical research

A healthy lifestyle may offset the impact of genetics by more than 60% and add another five years to your life, according to the first study of its kind.

It is well established that some people are genetically predisposed to a shorter lifespan. It is also well known that lifestyle factors, specifically smoking, alcohol consumption, diet and physical activity, can have an impact on longevity.

However, until now there has been no investigation to understand the extent to which a healthy lifestyle may counterbalance genetics.

Findings from several long-term studies suggest a healthy lifestyle could offset effects of life-shortening genes by 62% and add as much as five years to your life. The results were published in the journal BMJ Evidence-Based Medicine.

“This study elucidates the pivotal role of a healthy lifestyle in mitigating the impact of genetic factors on lifespan reduction,” the researchers concluded. “Public health policies for improving healthy lifestyles would serve as potent complements to conventional healthcare and mitigate the influence of genetic factors on human lifespan.”

The study involved 353,742 people from the UK Biobank and showed that those with a high genetic risk of a shorter life have a 21% increased risk of early death compared with those with a low genetic risk, regardless of their lifestyle.

Meanwhile, people with unhealthy lifestyles have a 78% increased chance of early death, regardless of their genetic risk, researchers from Zhejiang University School of Medicine in China and the University of Edinburgh found.

The study added that having an unhealthy lifestyle and shorter lifespan genes more than doubled the risk of early death compared with people with luckier genes and healthy lifestyles.

However, researchers found that people did appear to have a degree of control over what happened. The genetic risk of a shorter lifespan or premature death may be offset by a favourable lifestyle by about 62%, they found.

They wrote: “Participants with high genetic risk could prolong approximately 5.22 years of life expectancy at age 40 with a favourable lifestyle.”

The “optimal lifestyle combination” for a longer life was found to be “never smoking, regular physical activity, adequate sleep duration and healthy diet”.

The study followed people for 13 years on average, during which time 24,239 deaths occurred. People were grouped into three genetically determined lifespan categories including long (20.1%), intermediate (60.1%) and short (19.8%), and three lifestyle score categories including favourable (23.1%), intermediate (55.6%) and unfavourable (21.3%).

Researchers used polygenic risk scores to look at multiple genetic variants to arrive at a person’s overall genetic predisposition to a longer or shorter life. Other scores looked at whether people smoked, drank alcohol, took exercise, their body shape, healthy diet and sleep.

Matt Lambert, the health information and promotion manager at the World Cancer Research Fund, said: “This new research shows that, despite genetic factors, living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a balanced nutritious diet and keeping active, can help us live longer.”