Longevity: The two most ‘powerful predictors’ of successful ageing – both can be modified

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There are a confluence of factors that contribute to longevity and research continues to identify the most important. Research in this area is vital: it charts a course to successful ageing. A comprehensive analysis published in the journal PLoS One advances our understanding of the ways we can reach older age.

“Lifestyle factors predicting successful ageing as a unified concept or as separate components of successful ageing are important for understanding healthy ageing, interventions and preventions,” wrote the study researchers.

The main objective of their study was to investigate the effect of midlife predictors on subsequent successful ageing 20 years later.

The researchers analysed data from a population-based health survey, the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT), with an average follow-up of 22.6 years.

Individuals free of major disease at baseline (the beginning of the study) in 1984-86 with complete datasets for the successful ageing components were included.

Successful ageing was defined either as a unified category or as three components: being free of nine specified diseases and depression, having no physical or cognitive impairment, and being actively engaged with life.

The midlife predictors (smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, obesity and social support) were analysed both as separate predictors and combined into a lifestyle index controlling for sociodemographic variables.

What did the researchers find out?

Successful ageing as a unified concept was related to all the lifestyle factors.

The individual components of successful ageing were differently associated with the lifestyle factors; engagement with life was less associated with the lifestyle factors.

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“Non-smoking and good social support were the most powerful predictors for successful ageing as a unified concept,” the researchers wrote.

“When the lifestyle factors were summed into a lifestyle index, there was a trend for more positive lifestyle to be related to higher odds for successful ageing.”

The researchers concluded: “Lifestyle factors predicted an overall measure of SA [successful ageing], as well as the individual components, more than 20 years later.”

They added: “Modifiable risk factors in midlife, exemplified by social support, may be used for interventions to promote overall health and specific aspects of health in ageing.”

General tips for healthy ageing

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.

This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

The Eatwell Guide shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to:

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
  • Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids (at least six to eight glasses a day).

According to the dietary guide, if you’re having foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.

“Try to choose a variety of different foods from the five main food groups to get a wide range of nutrients,” advises the NHS.

According to the health body, most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.

There’s evidence that people who eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke and some cancers.

“Eating five portions is not as hard as it sounds,” notes the NHS.

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