Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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Add 14 years to your life

If you are middle-aged or older, specifically 45 to 79, how would you like to add 14 years to your life? According to a British study if you currently have no cardiovascular disease or cancer, you can do that by adhering to four Healthy Behaviors.

     The investigators followed just over 20,000 eligible people for an average of 11 years and scored each of them on four health factors: 1)Smoking, 2) Physical activity, 3.) Alcohol intake and 4)Diet.  Each person was given a point for each positive behavior.  Not smoking is an obvious positive as is a diet containing 5 daily servings of fruit and vegatables. However, the authors seemed generous with respect to physical activity and alcohol intake.  Judgement of physical activity was defined in the negative; that is, if a person has a sedentary job and did no recreational exercise that was a "zero", otherwise, that person was scored a positive "one". Acceptable moderate alcohol was scored a "one" if the individual took no more than 1 to 14 drinks of alcohol in a week(14 drinks obviously is no more than 2 per day and is often accepted as the upper limit that defines moderate intake.)

      And what were the results? During the 11 year study period, people with total Health Behavior scores of "zero" were four times more likely to have died. (especially from Cardiovascular Disease) as those with a positive score of "four".  Even those with a score of "two" were better off than those with zero.  Furthermore, the results were said to be the same within subgroups such as age or sex.

      Much is written these days and much is often confusing about the effects of various lifestyle elements on health and longevitiy.  This rather simple study looked at the combination of the four factors which together seem to be a powerful predictor. Most important is the fact that a person would appear to have control over these health factors.

     What was concluded from this study? First, for middle-aged and older people based on these factors there is a 4-fold difference in the risk of dying. Second, the risks of death (especially Cardiovascular) decreases as the number of positive health factors increases.  Third, the authors were able to calculate that a person with a total risk score of "zero" has the same risk of dying as a person 14 years older with a risk of "four".

    To illustrate the latter point, if you are 45 years old and have a score of "zero" you have the same risk of dying as a person 59 years old with a score of "four".

     So, if you are practicing bad lifestyle habits, change them and count on more years of good health.  


Lisa Miller, Hopkins County Health Department located in Madisonville Kentucky.



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