Four Healthy Habits = a Longer Life

Healthnotes Newswire (January 31, 2008)—How many years might you get for your efforts to live a healthy life? About 14 years, says a new study, if you do not smoke and you exercise moderately, eat fruits and vegetables, and drink some alcohol.

The new study, published in PLoS Medicine (a journal published by the Public Library of Science), included 20,244 adults who did not have cancer or heart disease when they entered the study. Each person was given a score of zero to four at the beginning of the study, receiving one point for each of these four healthy habits: (1) exercising, (2) eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day, (3) having 1 to 14 drinks per week, and (4) not smoking.

After an average follow-up period of 11 years, people with a score of zero were four times as likely to have died as people with a score of four. Most of these deaths were related to heart disease. The researchers then calculated that the benefits gained by having all four healthy habits were comparable to being about 14 years younger.

Having any of the healthy habits proved to be beneficial, and the more the better. Compared with people with a score of zero, people with a score of one were 38% less likely to die, those with a score of two were about half as likely to die, and those with a score of three were 66% less likely to die over the course of the study.

Before this study, a vast and indisputable body of evidence showed that smoking can take years off of a life, and the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables and getting regular exercise were already acknowledged to benefit health and lifespan. And while the issues around alcohol consumption are more complicated, most studies show that drinking alcohol moderately decreases the risk of heart disease and death from all causes. This new study finally ties it all together.

“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,” the study’s authors concluded.

“The nice thing about this study is that it is very accessible,” commented Rebecca Chollet, a naturopathic doctor practicing in Vermont and New Hampshire. “Thinking about lifestyle in terms of four basic habits allows people to begin to make changes without getting overwhelmed.”

It is important to note that, for some people, drinking alcohol does not promote health and could be dangerous. Recovered alcoholics and people at risk for alcoholism, as well as people with liver disease, gastroesophageal reflux, gastritis, and peptic ulcer disease, should avoid alcohol.

(PLoS Med 2008;5:1–8)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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