News article

Healthy Lifestyle Adds Years To Life

Posted:  Monday, July 14, 2014

Live longer thanks to fruit, a healthy lifestyle, limited alcohol and no cigarettes. This is the conclusion of a study by public health physicians at the University of Zurich who documented for the first time the impact of behavioural factors on life expectancy in numbers. The results are to be taken over into prevention and health counselling in primary care.

While chronic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis are on the rise, these can be controlled by improving lifestyles

Regular exercise, sensible eating, maintaining a healthy weight, ¬minimal alcohol consumption and no smoking are the simple steps that guarantee longevity.

Ground-breaking research conducted over 35 years found those who make subtle lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing killer conditions by up to 70 per cent. Cases of cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and dementia were slashed in those who seized control of their health.

An individual who smokes, drinks a lot, is physically inactive and has an unhealthy diet has 2.5 fold higher mortality risk in epidemiological terms than an individual who looks after his health. Or to put it positively: "A healthy lifestyle adds years to your life and can help you stay ten years' younger," comments the lead author Eva Martin-Diener.

For the study the researchers used data from the Swiss National Cohort (SNC). The Zurich public health physicians focused on CVDs and cancer as they account for the most deaths in Switzerland. The researchers succeeded in correlating data on tobacco consumption, fruit consumption, physical activity and alcohol consumption from 16,721 participants aged between 16 and 90 from 1977 to 1993 with the corresponding deaths up to 2008. The impact of the four forms of behaviour was still visible when biological risk factors like weight and blood pressure were taken into account as well.

"The effect of each individual factor on life expectancy is relatively high," states Eva Martin-Diener. But smoking seems to be the most harmful. Compared with a group of non-smokers, smokers have a 57 percent higher risk of dying prematurely. The impact of an unhealthy diet, not enough sport and alcohol abuse results in an elevated mortality risk of around 15 percent for each factor. "We were very surprised by the 2.5 fold higher risk when all four risk factors are combined," explains Brian Martin. Hence, the probability of a 75-year-old man with all risk factors surviving the next ten years is, for instance, 35 percent, without risk factors 67 percent -- for a woman 47 and 74 percent respectively.

According to Martin an unhealthy lifestyle has above all a long-lasting impact. Whereas high wine consumption, cigarettes, an unhealthy diet and physical inactivity scarcely had any effect on mortality amongst the 45 to 55-year-olds, it does have a visible effect on 65 to 75-year-olds. The probability of a 75-year-old man with none of the four risk factors surviving the next ten years is 67 percent, exactly the same as the risk for a smoker who is ten years younger, doesn't exercise, eats unhealthily and drinks a lot.