A recent study indicates that you might add up to 14 years to your life by adopting four health habits:
- staying smoke-free,
- drinking moderately or not at all,
- eating more fruits and vegetables, and
- being physically active.
“These results may provide further support for the idea that even small differences in lifestyle may make a big difference to health in the population and encourage behavior change,” noted the study’s authors.
This study—part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition—involved 25,639 men and women aged 45 to 79 living in the United Kingdom. Findings were published in the Jan. 7, 2008 issue of PloS Medicine.
Each participant in the study received a health behavior score that included one point for each of the following:
- Being a non-smoker.
- Consuming 1 to 14 drinks per week. (A single drink was defined as a half-pint of beer, a glass of wine, or a single shot of spirit alcohol.)
- Exercising for a half-hour daily or working in a non-sedentary job (such as being a nurse or plumber).
- Having blood levels of vitamin C consistent with eating at least five servings of fruits or vegetables daily.
Researchers recorded deaths among the study participants from 1993 to 2006. The results: Ninety-five percent of people with four points survived the study period. But only 75 percent of those with zero points survived.
In fact, people with a score of zero were four times more likely to die during the study than people with a score of four. People with a score of two were twice as likely to die. The main factors in these differences in longevity were due to cardiovascular disease.
In summary, the authors note that the “mortality risk for those with four compared to zero health behaviors was equivalent to being 14 years younger in chronological age.”
“We’ve known that individually, measures such as not smoking and exercising can have an impact upon longevity, but this is the first time we have looked at them altogether,” said lead researcher Kay-Tee Khaw from Cambridge University’s Institute of Public Health. “And we also found that social class and BMI—body mass index—really did not have a role to play. It means a large proportion of the population really could feel health benefits through moderate changes.”
The results strongly suggest that meeting relatively simple, achievable health goals can lead to years of added life for large numbers of people.
“Nothing is really new here on the science, but it is new in terms of public health messages,” said Alexander C. Wagenaar, professor of epidemiology and health policy research at the University of Florida. “What this does is take the existing research and calculate the benefits of healthy behaviors, and their combinations, into units the public will understand.”
So you may have a score of 10 on the looks scale but a score of 4 will keep you there.
Alive & Free is a health column that offers information to help prevent and address addiction and substance abuse problems. It is provided by Hazelden.