Healthy Habits Can Mean 14 Extra Years

Healthy Habits Can Mean 14 Extra Years


By MARIA CHENG / AP Medical Writer
Jan 8, 12:41 PM EST

LONDON (AP) — To get an extra 14 years of life,
don’t smoke, eat lots of fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly and
drink alcohol in moderation.

That’s the finding of a study that tracked about 20,000 people in the United Kingdom.

Kay-Tee
Khaw of the University of Cambridge and colleagues calculated that
people who adopted these four healthy habits lived an average of 14
years longer than those who didn’t.

"We’ve
known for a long time that these behaviors are good things to do, but
we’ve never seen these additive benefits before," said Susan Jebb, head
of Nutrition and Health at Britain’s Medical Research Council, which
helped pay for the study.

"Just doing one of
these behaviors helps, but every step you make to improve your health
seems to have an added benefit," said Jebb, who was not involved in the
study.

The benefits were also seen regardless
of whether or not people were fat and what social class they came from.
The findings were published online Monday in the Public Library of
Science Medicine journal.

The study included
healthy adults aged 45 to 79. Participants filled in a health
questionnaire between 1993 and 1997 and nurses conducted a medical exam
at a clinic. Participants scored a point each for not smoking, regular
physical activity, eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day
and moderate alcohol intake.

Until 2006, the
researchers tracked deaths from all causes, including cardiovascular
disease, cancer and respiratory diseases. People who scored four points
were four times less likely to die than those who scored zero, the
research showed.

Khaw said that the study
should convince people that improving their health does not always
require extreme changes to their lifestyles.

"We
didn’t ask these people to do anything exceptional," Khaw said. "We
measured normal behaviors that were entirely feasible within people’s
normal, everyday lives."

Public health experts said they hoped the study would inspire governments to help people adopt these changes.

"This
research is an important piece of work which emphasizes how modifying
just a few risk factors can add years to your life," said Dr. Tim
Armstrong, a physical activity expert at the World Health Organization.

But
because the study only observed people rather than testing specific
changes, experts said that it would be impossible to conclude that
people who suddenly adopted these healthy behaviors would automatically
gain 14 years.

"We can’t say that any one
person could gain 14 years by doing these things," said Armstrong. "The
14 years is an average across the population of what’s theoretically
possible."

But experts worry that the new findings may still not be enough to persuade people to change their unhealthy ways.

"Most
people know that things like a good diet matter and that smoking is not
good for you," Jebb said. "We need to work on providing people with
much more practical support to help them change."

On the Net:

PLoS: http://medicine.plosjournals.org

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