The Influence of Lifestyle Choices on Survival to Age 85

If decent odds of living into late old age are the desired goal, in the present medical environment in which the easily available, widely used technologies still have comparatively little impact on aging and age-related disease, then good lifestyle choices are paramount. Don't smoke. Stay thin. Eat a good diet. That lifestyle choices have a sizable impact on aging in comparison to available medical technologies is a sign that the research and development communities are not yet very far along in the treatment of aging. We might hope that this will change in the years ahead, starting with the widespread use of first generation senolytic therapies to remove senescent cells and the harms that they cause.

How large an effect on life expectancy results from good versus bad lifestyle choices? Epidemiological studies such as that noted in today's open access paper can be used to answer this question. People making poor lifestyle choices had a 28% chance of reaching age 85, while people making better lifestyle choices had a 67% chance of reaching age 85. While no-one gets to be 85 with a youthful physique, at least not until rejuvenation therapies are a lot further along, there is something to be said for being alive versus the alternative, particularly as progress in medical technology will continue along the way, offering better options as time goes on.

Healthy Choices in Midlife Predict Survival to Age 85 in Women: The Tromsø Study 1979-2019

The aim of this study is to examine the association between single risk factors and multiple risk factors in midlife and older ages (up to 64 years) and survival to the age of 85 years in women. The study sample comprised 857 women who attended the second survey of the population-based Tromsø Study (Tromsø2, 1979-1980) at the ages of 45-49 years and were followed for all-cause mortality until 85 years of age. Daily smoking, physical inactivity, being unmarried, obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in midlife were used as explanatory variables in survival analyses.

In total, 56% of the women reached the age of 85. Daily smoking, physical inactivity, being unmarried, and obesity were significant single risk factors for death before the age of 85. None of the women had all six risk factors, but survival to age 85 did decrease gradually with increasing number of risk factors: from 67% survival for those with no risk factors to 28% survival for those with four or five risk factors. A subset of the study sample also attended the third and fourth surveys of the Tromsø Study (Tromsø3, 1986-1987 and Tromsø4, 1994-1995, respectively).

Women who quit smoking and those who became physically active between Tromsø3 and Tromsø4 had higher survival when compared to those who continued to smoke and remained physically inactive, respectively. This study demonstrates the importance of having no or few risk factors in midlife with respect to longevity. We observed a substantial increase in the risk of death before the age of 85 among women who were daily smokers, physically inactive, unmarried, or obese in midlife. This risk may be mitigated by lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking and becoming physically active later in life.


Anyone understand why "being unmarried" tends to shorten lifespan? Because those people tend to not look after themselves? Or.. is it because of the social isolation? Seems to me that if you played it right, you can have more social connection outside of a marriage. Also, more time to take care of yourself.

Posted by: Matt at May 23rd, 2022 3:26 PM

I think being married helps the social aspect although I'm sure it is generalized. Also, maybe it gives the females a very personal purpose, take care of their partner

Although you mentioned diet, Reason, I'm surprised the study did not say that as an indicator.

Posted by: Robert at May 23rd, 2022 5:18 PM

@matt, the six charts in the study show a profound story. But it is apparent from the n numbers for each chart that each risk factor was not controlled for separately. Thus being unmarried as a risk factor is easily explained by correlation, smokers and the obese tend to remain unmarried more so than non smokers and the non obese.

Posted by: JohnD at May 23rd, 2022 7:47 PM

I am pretty sure the 'unmarried' factor is only correlation and 0 (or very tiny) causation.
The human-animal tends to choose a partner who is fit and likely to survive longer.
Very few people want to marry an obese, high-blood pressure, physically inactive, couch potato, unattractive "future-person".
The unconscious processes in the brain make these calculations for you. Even in youth. And projecting it to your future. People might not even be aware.
Unfit people - who would die early anyway because of their predetermined biological machinery - are selected less for marriage.
You might not find any causation in this.

Posted by: Joe at May 29th, 2022 6:02 PM

Having a strong emotional bond with another human being increases Oxytocin levels. Physical touching with someone you love or are attracted to increases Oxytocin levels. Sex increases Oxytocin levels. Oxytocin decreases as we age. Oxytocin is an anti-aging correlate. See: "Rejuvenation of brain, liver and muscle by simultaneous pharmacological modulation of two signaling determinants, that change in opposite directions with age," here:

Posted by: Michael Slattery at May 30th, 2022 12:04 PM
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