Healthy living is about living longer. Right? Well, yes, very much so, yes. But there is more and it’s important. Healthy living is also about staying well and having a better quality of life…

When talking to folks who eat poorly, smoke, drink heavily, etc. the response is often along the lines of “well, we all die sometime” or “I could be hit by a truck any day” or “when it’s my time it’s my time”. We have all heard these comments – the underlying notion appears to be that living longer is not important enough to modify lifestyles (to live more healthily) and or that there are so many ways to die that managing the lifestyle-related risks is not sensible or not worthwhile enough. And indeed, when we consider the increasing rates of obesity, lack of exercise, etc. it does seem that many people just do not see enough value in healthy living to make actual lifestyle changes. The effort, the sweat, the early morning alarms, the cravings for tobacco, and more, are just not worth the benefit of living longer. For many of us. Or so it seems anyway – how else to explain an otherwise-illogical decision to continue living in a health-harming manner?

Perhaps there is a subtle and yet crucial point that many are just not getting. It has to do with quality of life. Not just quantity. You see, healthy people do not only live longer; they also live better. They enjoy a higher quality of life than their less-healthy peers. Pause here. Think about it.

  • A longer but also a better life. By making lifestyle choices that we can all make. If we choose to.
  • A shorter and poorer-quality life. By continuing to damage ourselves through things we can control. Because we choose not to.


This can be quantified. Researchers use a calculation known as Quality Adjusted Life Years (QALY) to express the combination of quality of life and quantity of life. QALY is very helpful because it helps us measure the impact of any intervention: lifestyle change, medication, surgery, etc. It is an imperfect measure and there are complexities and there are areas of controversy and debate among experts. But what is important is to know that these ideas are more than just ideas: they are quantifiable realities. In the modern business world, we often say “you can only manage what you can measure” and this concept works here too. QALYs, and the research that uses QALYs, gives us certainty and a degree of precision. It moves the discussion from a debatable “point of view” thing to something that is beyond debate because it is a measurable, measured, fact. It moves us from intuition and guesswork to measurable, reproducible, incontestable, science.

It turns out that living well in the key areas of weight management, smoking, exercise, and diet, creates at least two more quality years for us. Two extra years of quality life. At least (in truth it is likely to be quite a bit more than this – for various technical and research-related reasons, the published studies are likely to underestimate the impact). Two years (probably a lot more) may not seem a whole lot when you are 30, but try asking a 60 or 70- or 80-year-old!

Living well now will mean that you live longer and better into the future. Longer AND better. And it can be measured. And it has been measured. Enough said.

Written by Dr Colin Burns