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Why amassing £488,000 by 50 could add nine disability-free years to life

Sarah Knapton
The wealthiest households could expect an extra nine years of healthy life  - PA

It is said that money does not buy happiness, but a new study suggests that it does purchase a longer and healthier life. 

Amassing a net household worth of around £488,000 by the age of 50 adds around nine disability-free years to life, in comparison with the poorest people - those with £28,000 or less.

The amount includes all assets, such as a home, property and investments, after subtracting any debts such as mortgages, loans and overdrafts.

Previous studies have found that the wealthiest people live longer, an effect linked to better education and being able to better food and healthcare. 

But it was unclear if those extra years were enjoyed in good health. Now a new study by University College London (UCL) involving more than 10,000 over-50s found that not only do rich people live longer, they also remain fit, active and independent in their extra years.

Dr Paola Zaninotto (UCL Epidemiology and Health Care), lead author, said: “While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial. 

“By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favourable states of health or without disability.

“Our study makes a unique contribution to understanding the levels of inequalities in health expectancies between England and the US where healthcare systems are very different.”

Scientific and medical advancements in recent decades mean the lifespan has been gradually creeping up. 

But experts have feared that although people were living longer, they were often suffering from chronic diseases, such as diabetes or dementia. Consequently, ageing research in recent years has moved from increasing ‘lifespan’ to boosting ‘healthspan.’

The researchers set out to examine how long people in England and the US could expect to live free from disabilities, such as being unable to get in and out of bed or to cook for themselves.

In both countries, study participants over 50 years of age were divided into three groups by total household wealth and their health was tracked up until 2013.  

The results showed that at age 50 the wealthiest men in England and the US lived around an additional 31 ‘healthy’ years compared to around 22-23 years for those in the poorest wealth groups. 

Women from the wealthiest groups from the US and England lived around an additional 33 ‘healthy’ compared to 24.6 and 24 years from the poorest wealth groups in England the US respectively.

Dr Zaninotto added: “We know that improving both the quality and the quantity of years that individuals are expected to live has implications for public expenditure on health, income, long-term care of older people and work participation and our results suggest that policy makers in both England and the US must make greater efforts into reducing health inequalities.”

However, for people struggling to amass that level of household wealth, last week Harvard University found that following five health habits by the age of 50 can add more than a decade of healthy life.

People who ate a good diet, exercised, were a healthy body weight, did not smoke and did not drink too much, lived free of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer for far longer.

Women could expect to increase to increase their healthspan from 73 to 84, and men from 73 to 81, simply by living well.

The new research was published in Journal of Gerontology.