Healthy Lifestyle in Old Age Shortens End-of-Life Disability: Study

healthy lifestyle

A new study has shown that leading an active and healthy lifestyle can not only extend a person’s lifespan, but it can also reduce the amount of time a person spends disabled in their final years. This finding has apparently evaded health scientists for years.

The Study

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and their associates across the country analyzed 25 years of data and  uncovered that older adults with the healthiest lifestyles could expect to spend roughly 1.7 fewer years disabled near the end of their lives, compared to their unhealthiest opposites.

“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, M.D., M.P.H., chair of the Department of Epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “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.”

Newman and her peers studied statistics gathered by the Cardiovascular Health Study, which tracked 5,888 adults from Sacramento County, Calif.; Forsyth County, N.C.; Washington County, Md.; and Allegheny County, Pa., for a quarter of a century. All of the participants were 65 or older and were not committed to an institution or wheelchair-bound when they entered.

The subjects either reported or were tested for several different lifestyle factors, including smoking habits, drinking alcohol, physical activity, diet, weight and their social support system. The research team modified results based on factors such as age, race, sex, education, income, marital status, and chronic health conditions.

What This Means

Put simply, a person’s healthy lifestyle can give them nearly two years or more of active life, free of disability than their unhealthy counterparts.