THURSDAY, Oct. 25, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Healthy lifestyle habits in midlife improve the chances that you'll remain healthy as you get older, according to a new study.
Researchers followed 5,100 healthy British men and women, aged 42 to 63, for 16 years. During that time, about 550 participants died, about 950 were classified as successfully aging and the remaining people aged normally.
Successful aging was defined as maintaining good mobility, lung function, mental health, and thinking and memory skills, and having no chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke or disability at age 60 or older.
People in the normal aging category had chronic disease and/or reduced physical functioning and mental health.
The researchers found that having four types of healthy habits during midlife -- not smoking, moderate alcohol consumption, regular exercise and eating fruits and vegetables -- was associated with a greater likelihood of successful aging.
People in the successful aging group were more likely to be married (81 percent) than those in the normal aging group (78 percent) and participants who died during the study (71 percent). Successful agers were also more likely to have a higher level of education than those in the normal aging group or the deceased group: 32 percent, 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
The findings were published Oct. 22 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
"Our study shows the cumulative impact of healthy behaviors on successful aging -- the greater the number of healthy behaviors, the greater the benefit," wrote Dr. Severine Sabia of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, and colleagues.
"Although individual healthy behaviors are moderately associated with successful aging, their combined impact is quite substantial," the researchers concluded in a journal news release. "Multiple healthy behaviors appear to increase the chance of reaching old age disease-free and fully functional in an additive manner."
The U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion explains how to protect your health as you grow older.