Healthy Lifestyle: 5 Keys to Longer Life
How is it that the United States spends the most money on health care while at the same time having one of the lowest life expectancy rates of all developed countries? (Specifically: $9,400 per capita, 79 years and 31 years).
Perhaps those of us in the health care business has been looking at this all wrong for too long.
A Healthy Lifestyle and Longevity
Researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a major study on the effects of harmful habits on life expectancy, using data from the well-known Nursing Health Survey (NHS) and Health Professionals Surveillance Studies (HPFS). This means that they had data on a large number of people over a very long period of time. The NHS has reached more than 78,000 women and followed them from 1980 to 2014. There were more than 40,000 men in the NHS and they followed them from 1986 to 2014. This is over 120,000 participants, 34 years of data on women and 28 years of data on men.
The researchers reviewed NHS and HPFS data on diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption, which were collected from verified questionnaires and completed regularly.
What is a healthy lifestyle?
These five areas were chosen because previous studies have shown that they have a large impact on the risk of premature death. This is how these healthy habits were defined and measured:
1. Healthy eating habits, which have been calculated and evaluated on the basis of healthy eating habits such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as unhealthy eating habits such as red and processed meat, beverages, sweetened sugars, trans fats, and sodium.
2. A level of healthy physical activity measured at least 30 minutes per day in moderate to vigorous daily activity.
3. 3. A healthy body weight, defined as a normal mass index (BMI), ranging from 18.5 to 24.9.
4. 4. Smoking, there is no healthy amount of smoking. “Healthy” here means never smoking.
5. Moderate alcohol consumption, which was measured at 5 to 15 grams per day for women and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. In total, one drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. This is 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled alcoholic beverages.
Does a healthy lifestyle matter?
A healthy lifestyle has been shown to matter. According to this analysis, people who met the criteria for all five habits enjoyed significantly longer lives than those who did not: 14 years for women and 12 years for men (if they had these habits at age 50). People who had none of these habits were much more likely to die prematurely from cancer or cardiovascular disease.
The researchers also calculated life expectancy for how many of these five healthy habits people had. Only one healthy habit (and it didn’t matter what) … … only one … extended life expectancy by two years in both men and women. Not surprisingly, the more healthy habits people have, the longer their life expectancy. This is one of those situations where I would like to reprint their schedules for you because they are so great. (But if you are very curious, the article is available online, and the charts are on page 7.) See Chart B, “Estimated Life Expectancy at Age 50 Based on Number of Low-Risk Factors”)
Huge. And this confirms previous similar studies – many previous similar studies. A mega-check of 15 international studies in 2012, involving more than 500,000 people, showed that more than half of the premature deaths were due to unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor nutrition, inactivity, obesity, heavy drinking, and smoking. And the list of supporting studies continues.
So what’s our (big) problem?
As the authors of this study point out, in the US we tend to spend money on developing wonder drugs and other methods of treating the disease, not preventing it. This is a big problem.
Experts have suggested that the best way to help people change healthy diets and lifestyles is at the level of the general population, through public health efforts and policy changes. (Some type of legislation on motorcycle helmets and seat belts…) We have made little progress on legislation on tobacco and trans fats.
Of course, there are a lot of big industry push-ups. If we have guidelines and laws that help us live healthier, then the big companies won’t sell as much fast food, chips, and soda. And for companies that are too prone to make money off of human life, it really bothers them.