Who does not like to live a long time in good health? There’s been plenty of research on lifestyle choices, such as smoking, physical activity, drinking habits, weight management, and diet, that affect our overall life span and likelihood of experiencing chronic diseases. However, few studies have looked at how a combination of these factors relate to a long life free of disease. While hypertension is the number one cause for death throughout the world, many lifestyle changes, such as better diet and exercise, can affect this diagnosis to varying degrees, especially based on regimen and adherence. Moreover, being selective in what you eat is one of the most important lifestyle factors. Foods that are high in fiber have been studied extensively for the benefits that they provide when it comes to cardiovascular health, including blood pressure regulation. These foods are plant-based and include whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, legumes, have been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, high cholesterol level and high blood pressure. Now a recently published study has concluded there are lifestyle factors that can increase your odds of reaching an older age without chronic health issues.
According to their finding: a) healthy lifestyle habits can add as much as a decade to your life span; b) there are just five lifestyle factors as important, including diet, exercise and maintaining a moderate body weight, and c) the two most important things to avoid are smoking and developing overweight or obesity. Study participants were followed for more than 20 years. Those who followed four or five of the healthy lifestyle choices significantly increased their healthy life span after age 50. Experts emphasize that the most influential of these are not smoking and maintaining a moderate body weight. Researchers examined data from roughly 73,000 american female nurses from the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS I) and from almost 40,000 american male health professionals from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study (HPFS). Participants didn’t have cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes when they were enrolled. Study participants were routinely assessed for new diagnoses and deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes for more than 20 years. Researchers adjusted for age, ethnic background, family medical history, and other considerations.
The low-risk lifestyle factors used to calculate a healthy lifestyle score included: 1) never smoking; 2) at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity; 3) moderate alcohol intake; 4) maintaining a moderate weight (defined as a BMI less than 25; and 5) a good quality diet. Adding these five factors together gave a final low-risk lifestyle score ranging from 0 to 5. A higher score indicated a healthier lifestyle. Years of life free from cancer, heart disease, and diabetes at age 50 was 24 years for women who followed none of the low-risk lifestyle factors. It was 34 years for women who adopted four or five of the factors. The life expectancy free of these chronic diseases was 24 years among 50-year-old men who followed no low-risk lifestyle factors. It was 31 years for men who practiced four or five of these healthy habits. For those wishing to preserve heart function and health, scientists says they’d benefit from avoiding foods high in sugar, sodium, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates. Optimizing caloric intake and reaching or maintaining a moderate weight and waist measurement into middle age are the single most important ways to reduce risk for diabetes as well as participating in regular physical activity and avoiding smoking.
According to the study, men who smoked heavily — defined as 15 or more cigarettes per day — and men and women with obesity (defined as BMI 30 or higher) had the lowest chance of disease-free life expectancy at age 50. For smokers, the most important thing for them to do, of course, is to stop smoking. Dr. Frank Hu, MPH, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts and lead study author, explained: “We wanted to see whether following a healthy diet and exercise can prolong life, not just life expectancy but life expectancy free of chronic diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Because we’re not just looking at life span but also health span, meaning that there are increased years of life free of chronic disease. Keep in mind that a healthy lifestyle with low impact, tolerable physical exercise; a good, well-balanced, colorful diet; hydration; and an appropriate amount of sleep can do wonders to help maintain a positive mental outlook and physical state. I agrees mostly that not smoking is critically important. The one single thing anyone who smokes can do is simply quit and reduce risk of disease and death by double digits, which is seen through this study”.
According to final data, the effect appears to be greater the longer an ‘ever-smoker’ remains no longer smoking. In the first 1 to 10 years after quitting, the risk of heart disease and lung cancer drops, and by 15 years, the risk of each is near that of a nonsmoker.
Are further doubts still there about your lifestyle?
- Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry
Li Y et al. Hu FB. BMJ 2020 Jan 8; 368:l6669.
Hemler EC, Hu FB. Adv Nutr. 2019; 10(Suppl4):S275.
Shan Z et al. JAMA. 2019 Sep 24; 322(12):1178-1187.