Four Healthy Behaviors Can Add Many Life Years
AHIP Medical Affairs Issues Report
February 13, 2008
A study conducted in the United Kingdom looked at the impact of four lifestyle behaviors on mortality. Though the health effects of smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and fruit and vegetable intake have been examined separately in many studies, the researchers wanted to examine the effects of their combined impact.
The study examined 20,000 white British men and women, age 45-79 years old, first surveyed in the 1990s. At baseline, the participants had no known cardiovascular disease or cancer. Participants scored one point for each health behavior: current non-smoker, not physically inactive, moderate alcohol intake (1-14 units per week), and fruit and vegetable intake of at least five servings a day (measured by plasma vitamin C levels). Participants were asked to complete a health and lifestyle questionnaire, and were examined by trained nurses at a clinic.
After an average 11 year follow up and controlling for age and other factors that may affect the likelihood of death, results showed that those who scored four points (exhibited all four health behaviors) had one quarter of the mortality risk compared to those who scored zero points. This risk was equivalent to about 14 years difference in chronological age. Those who had a score of two were twice as likely to die as those with a score of four. The trends were strongest for deaths from cardiovascular causes, but there were also associated deaths from cancer and other causes.
The authors noted that the differences in survival were also observed in people with existing chronic disease. They encouraged public health officials to use this information to educate people that modest and achievable goals have significant impact on health, even later in life and for those with chronic conditions.
My personal comments: These 4 things are relatively easy, it just takes a little will power for some people. We all know smoking and excessive alcohol consumption is bad, and exercise and eating fruits and veggies are good. For me, it’s finding time for physical activity. I do have a 22 month old, so I at least have help in that respect, but I do not have time to devote 30 minutes to daily exercise. But I do feel pretty good that on most days I am hitting 3 out of 4 of these items.
It’s also a great idea to go ahead and make this a part of your daily life as a parent and instill these things in your child so these will be natural habits for them going into their adult years. We do not keep “junk food” in our house (not to say we don’t have the occassional Oreo now and then) but to our 22 month old daughter fruits are sweets; and she also loves to chew on carrots, she will eat a big bowl of lima beans, and hummus dip is a daily staple. Some parents say “my child will not eat anything besides junk.” Well, if you don’t have it around to start with, I bet you they will eat the healthy choices that are put in front of them.
This article was published in the January 2008 issue of the PLoS Medicine journal and can be accessed by clicking here.