Women who bréastfeed for six months reduce their risk of dying from all cancers by 10 per cent, researchers say.
They also cut their chances of death from heart attacks and strokes by 17 per cent.
And following all the main recommendations for a healthy life reduces the risk of dying from a range of diseases by a third, the study found.
It looked at the contribution made to ill-health by poor lifestyles by examining how closely people complied with seven key recommendations to reduce cancer risk.
Researchers studied nearly 380,000 people in nine European countries over 12 years. They found that those who followed the advice from the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) most closely cut their chances of dying from several diseases by 34 per cent.
The recommendations are to maintain a healthy weight, be physically active, cut down on foods and drinks that help increase weight, eat more plant foods, reduce consumption of meat and alcoholic drinks, and – in the case of nursing mothers – bréastfeed for at least six months.
Dr Teresa Norat, of Imperial College London, who led the project, said: ‘This large European study is the first that shows there is a strong association between following the WCRF/AICR recommendations and a reduced risk of dying from cancer, circulatory diseases and respiratory diseases. Now further research is needed in other large populations to confirm these findings.’
Those who most closely followed the WCRF/AICR recommendations cut their chances of dying from respiratory disease by 50 per cent, circulatory disease by 44 per cent and cancer by 20 per cent compared with those who the lowest level of compliance.