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Lifespan is influenced more by lifestyle than genetics

An analysis from several comprehensive long-term studies led by an international team of scientists has revealed that a healthy lifestyle may counteract the life-shortening effects of certain genes by more than 60 percent.

The findings of the study underscore the combined influence of genetics and lifestyle on lifespan, where an unhealthy lifestyle alone is associated with a 78-percent increased risk of premature death, regardless of genetic background.

Lifestyle factors and lifespan

The studies employed a polygenic risk score (PRS) to assess each individual’s genetic risk of having a shorter or longer lifespan, factoring in multiple genetic variants. 

Lifestyle factors such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, diet quality, sleep duration, and physical activity levels also played a crucial role.

Healthy lifestyle versus genetics 

The researchers aimed to quantify how much a healthy lifestyle could potentially offset the genetic risk of a shortened lifespan. They utilized data from 353,742 adults enrolled in the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2010, tracking their health until 2021. 

The participants were divided based on their PRS into groups indicating long (20%), intermediate (60%), and short (20%) lifespan risks, derived from the LifeGen cohort study data.

Lifestyle scores were assigned based on criteria including non-smoking status, moderate alcohol consumption, regular physical activity, healthy body shape, sufficient sleep, and a nutritious diet. These were categorized as favorable (23% of participants), intermediate (56%), and unfavorable (22%) using data from the US NHANES study.

Genetic risk and unhealthy lifestyle 

Over an average follow-up period of nearly 13 years, 24,239 participants passed away. The results of the analysis showed that individuals genetically predisposed to a shorter lifespan were 21 percent more likely to die early compared to those with a genetic predisposition to a longer life, irrespective of lifestyle. 

Additionally, those with an unfavorable lifestyle had a 78 percent higher risk of premature death than those with a favorable lifestyle, regardless of genetic factors.

Participants facing both a high genetic risk and an unfavorable lifestyle were twice as likely to die early compared to those with a low genetic risk and a favorable lifestyle. Key components of a beneficial lifestyle included non-smoking, engaging in regular physical activity, getting adequate sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet.

Healthy lifestyle mitigates genetic risk 

While this is an observational study with inherent limitations – such as assessing lifestyle at a single point and the exclusion of non-European ancestries – the findings suggest that a favorable lifestyle can substantially mitigate the genetic risk of a shortened lifespan by about 62 percent. 

According to the experts, individuals at high genetic risk could potentially extend their life expectancy by nearly 5.5 years at the age of 40 through healthy living. They highlight the importance of establishing healthy habits early in life, given that lifestyle patterns tend to solidify before middle age.

“This study elucidates the pivotal role of a healthy lifestyle in mitigating the impact of genetic factors on lifespan reduction. Public health policies for improving healthy lifestyles would serve as potent complements to conventional healthcare and mitigate the influence of genetic factors on human lifespan,” the authors concluded.

Aspects of a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle is centered around habits that enhance physical, mental, and emotional well-being. It generally includes a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains which provides the necessary nutrients and energy. 


Regular physical activity, whether it’s through structured exercise like jogging or informal activities like walking, helps maintain a healthy weight, strengthens the heart, and boosts mood.


Good sleep is another pillar of a healthy lifestyle, with most adults benefiting from seven to nine hours per night. Sleep aids in recovery, cognitive function, and emotional regulation. Stress management through techniques such as meditation, yoga, or simply dedicating time to hobbies, helps maintain mental health and reduces the risk of various physical health issues.

Healthy habits

Avoiding harmful habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use is also crucial. Instead, forming positive relationships that support a healthy lifestyle and seeking regular medical advice to monitor health conditions and prevent diseases are beneficial practices.

Overall, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is about making consistent, daily choices that lead to long-term benefits for both body and mind.

The study is published in the journal BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.


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