Monday, April 30, 2018

Study finds that maintaining five healthy habits could add a decade to your life, but only 8 percent of Americans follow all five

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health photo
Americans could add about a decade to their lives, on average, if they maintained five healthy habits: not smoking, eating healthy, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and drinking in moderation, according to a new study.

It may sound easy enough, but the study also found that fewer people are adhering to these healthy habits: 8 percent between 2001 to 2006, down from 15 percent between 1988 to 1992. Researchers say the decline is "driven primarily by the increasing prevalence of obesity."

Americans also have a shorter average life expectancy than almost all other wealthy nations, ranking 31st in the world for life expectancy in 2015, says a news release about the study.

At this time, 50-year-old American women can expect to live another 33 years and men another 30 years. The study predicts those numbers would jump to 43 years for men and 38 years for women who maintained all five healthy habits.It predicted the additional life expectancy of those who didn't adopt any of the habits would be 29 and 25.5, respectively.

"In other words, women who maintained all five healthy habits gained, on average, 14 years of life, and men who did so gained 12 years, compared with those who didn’t maintain healthy habits," the release says.

The study at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, published in the journal Circulation, looked at 34 years of data from 78,865 women in the Nurses’ Health Study and 27 years of data from 44,354 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.

The researchers found that those who had the five healthy habits were 74 percent less likely to die during the study period, compared to those who didn't follow any of the healthy habits -- and 82 percent were less likely to die from heart disease or stroke, and 65 percent less likely to die from cancer.

The study defined "regular" exercise as moderate or vigorous activity for at least 30 minutes a day. Moderate drinking was defined as no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, and no more than two per day for men. And a "healthy" diet was scored by giving points to those who ate vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, fish and poultry and "good" fats. It also gave points to those with diets low in sugar, sodium and red meat.

The study found that adopting any one of the healthy lifestyles resulted in an increase in life expectancy, and that adopting all five produced the most additional years of life. (Click on chart for larger version.)
"This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits for improving longevity in the U.S. population,” senior author Frank Hu, chair of nutrition at the Chan School, said in the release. “However, adherence to healthy lifestyle habits is very low. Therefore, public policies should put more emphasis on creating healthy food, built, and social environments to support and promote healthy diet and lifestyles.”

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