Combination of Bad Habits Increases Death Risk

A recent article in the New Zealand Herald has reported that four common bad habits combined – smoking, drinking too much, inactivity and poor diet – can age you by 12 years, sobering new research suggests.

The findings are from a study of nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years, and they highlight yet another reason to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Overall, 314 people studied had all four unhealthy behaviours. Among them, 91 died during the study, or 29 per cent. Among the 387 healthiest people with none of the four bad habits, only 32 died, or about 8 per cent.

The risky behaviours were smoking tobacco, downing more than three alcoholic drinks per day for men and more than two daily for women, getting less than two hours of physical activity per week, and eating fruit and veges fewer that three times daily. These habits combined substantially increased the risk of death and made people seem 12 years older than people in the healthiest group, said lead researcher Elisabeth Kvaavik of the University of Oslo. The study appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The healthiest group included those who had never smoked and those who had quit; teetotallers, women who had fewer that two drinks daily and men who had fewer than three; those who got at least two hours of physical activity weekly; and those who ate fruits and vegetables at least three times daily. “You don’t need to be extreme to be in the healthy category” Dr Kvaavik said. “These behaviours add up, so together it’s quite good. It should be possible for most people to manage it”. For example, one carrot, one apple and a glass of orange juice would suffice for the fruit and vegetables cutoffs in the study, Kvaavik said, noting that the amounts are pretty modest and less strict than many guidelines. The US Government generally recommends at least four cups of fruit and vegetables daily for adults, depending on age and activity level; and about 2 1/2 hours of exercise weekly.

Study participants were randomly selected from another British health survey – 4886 adults aged between 18 and older, or 44 years old on average. Study subjects were asked about various lifestyle habits only once, a potential limitation; but Dr. Kvaavik said those habits tend to be fairly stable in adulthood. The most common causes of death included heart disease and cancer, both related to unhealthy lifestyles.

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