Adopting a healthier lifestyle can add years to your life... even in your 80s, according to new research.
Cutting back on alcohol, not smoking, losing weight and increasing sleep produce the biggest gains, say scientists.
They increased longevity by six years in healthy 40-year-olds – with benefits even more prominent in those twice the age.
What's more, these beneficial effects even applied to people with life-threatening illnesses including cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney disease.
The study, which was based on almost 50,000 Japanese people over 20 years, shows it is never too late to give up bad habits and shed the pounds – from middle age onwards.
Senior author Professor Hiroyasu Iso said: "This is a particularly important finding given the prevalence of chronic disease has increased globally and is a major cause of death in older populations."
The Osaka University team say taking ownership of your health is key to a pleasurable retirement.
They said: "Idioms and proverbs about the importance of maintaining good health span the ages.
"Many emphasise how closely health is tied to happiness and the opportunity to live a fulfilling and enjoyable life."
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The analysis found healthy behaviours have a marked effect on life span.
Life span is dependent on socioeconomic status, policies such as assisted access to healthcare and lifestyle factors.
Between 1988 and 1990 the study participants filled in surveys that included questions about diet and exercise, alcohol consumption, smoking status, sleep duration and body mass index (BMI). They were also asked about any illnesses.
The aim was to increase knowledge about which factors contribute to death from cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Points were awarded for each healthy behaviour and the impact of modifying them on projected life span was assessed.
The project continued until December 2009, by which time nearly 9,000 individuals had died.
First author Dr Ryoto Sakaniwa said: "The results were very clear. A higher number of modified healthy behaviours was directly associated with great longevity for both men and women."
It is one of the first studies to measure the impact of improvements to health behaviour among older individuals in a country with a national life expectancy achieving almost 85 years.
The researchers added: "The finding that lifestyle improvements has a positive impact on health despite chronic health conditions and older age is an empowering one, especially given the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions and longer life.
"The findings of this study will contribute to the design of future healthcare settings, public health approaches, and policies that work in partnership with patients to promote healthy lifestyle choices."
Two years ago, another study found that a healthy lifestyle can enable women to gain 10 years of life free from cancer, heart problems and type-2 diabetes – and comparatively men can gain seven years.
They must exercise regularly, drink in moderation only, have a healthy weight and good diet and not smoke, said the US team.
That research was based on 111,000 Americans tracked for more than 20 years.
Lead author Dr Frank Hu, of Harvard School of Public Health, in Boston, described the findings as "a positive message for the public".
He emphasised: "They gain not just more years of life but good years through improved lifestyle choices."
Additional reporting by SWNS