How many years of healthy active life people live after the age of 50 varies greatly across Europe, a study has shown.
People grew old most comfortably in Denmark, where men could look forward to 23.64 "healthy life years" and women 24.12. In sharp contrast, men in Estonia could expect no more than 9.05 trouble-free years after their 50th birthday.
Women in eastern European country had just 10.42 years of healthy life ahead of them after turning 50.
Generally, people in "established" western EU countries were far more likely to enjoy good health in their later years than those in the newer eastern states, the study found.
Experts believe "healthy life years" (HLYs) provide a better way to make health comparisons between regions than life expectancy. The new research involved studying 2005 disability statistics from 25 European countries.
A "healthy life year" is defined as one in which a person's activity is not limited by ill-health.
The research showed that in 2005 an average 50-year-old man in the EU could expect to live a healthy active life until the age of 67.3. Women were likely to enjoy good health until 68.1.
HLY variation across the EU was much greater than that for life expectancy, the research found. Life expectancy at the age of 50 differed by up to 9.1 years for men and 6.1 for women. But "healthy life years" varied by as much as 14.5 years for men and 13.7 for women.
The UK was ranked seventh in the HLY league table, with a healthy life expectancy for 50-year-olds of 19.74 years for men and 20.78 for women. The research was reported in an early online edition of The Lancet medical journal.
Professor Carol Jagger, from the University of Leicester, and colleagues wrote: "We noted a large variation in the remaining years spent free of activity limitations in men and women at 50 years of age between the 25 EU countries in 2005, amounting to a difference of around 14 years of healthy life."
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