Older people who lead an active lifestyle can add up to six years on to their life expectancy, a study has found.
The authors say this is the first study that directly provides information about differences in longevity according to several modifiable factors.
It is well known that lifestyle factors, like being overweight, smoking and heavy drinking, predict death among elderly people. But is it uncertain whether these associations are applicable to people aged 75 years or more.
Researchers at Sweden's Karolinska Institute studied data on more than 1,800 people, aged 75 and older, who were followed for 18 years.
During the follow-up period, 92 per cent of the participants died, although half lived past their 90th birthday.
The results show that smokers died one year earlier than non-smokers. Former smokers had a similar pattern of survival to never smokers. This indicates that quitting smoking in middle age reduces the effect on mortality.
The researchers found that survivors tended to be female and highly educated, with a healthy lifestyle, good social network and high uptake of leisure-time activities than non-survivors.
Analysis revealed that maintaining a physically active lifestyle had the strongest effect on survival.
On average, a healthy lifestyle added five years to women's lives and six years to those of men.
Publishing their findings in the British Medical Journal, the study authors concluded: 'Our results suggest that encouraging favourable lifestyle behaviours even at advanced ages may enhance life expectancy, probably by reducing morbidity.'