New observational research suggests physical inactivity, smoking, poor diet and experiencing sleep disorders in your early 60s puts you at double the risk of admission into aged care.

The University of Sydney study showed those over 60 with the unhealthiest lifestyles were significantly more likely to require admission to aged care than their peers with the healthiest lifestyles.

The new data coincides with the latest Intergenerational Report which confirmed the number of people aged 65 and over in Australia will more than double over the next four decades, putting higher demands on the aged care sector.

“This is the first study to look at the independent and combined impact these established and emerging lifestyle behaviours have on a person’s risk of admission into aged care,” said Dr Alice Gibson of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Economics.

“While further research is needed, our results suggest that people could potentially modify their lifestyle to alter their risk of admission to a nursing home or aged care facility in the future.”

After following up with study participants about 10 years after they signed up for the study, 18% were found to have been admitted to a residential care facility. The risk of admission was highest for current smokers, compared with those who had never smoked.

But researchers specified that the study had some limitations and was observational, meaning they couldn’t establish a direct cause.

For example, while common in large observational studies, the study relied on questionnaire data at one point in time so is unable to account for lifestyle behaviour changes over time. The reasons for aged care admissions and what co-existing health conditions were present at admission are also unknown.

“This evidence is an important contribution to aged care policy and might also serve as a personal motivator for lifestyle changes among younger at-risk individuals who do not want to lose their future independence and want to remain in their homes for as long as possible,” said Dr Gibson.