We’re all well aware that there are certain things we should do to be healthy — things like not smoking, eating well, and keeping our alcohol intake within reason. And odds are, you do the best you can. Now, new research finds that those healthy behaviors pay off bigtime: They can even extend your life.
This information comes via a new, large-scale study published in the journal Health Affairs. For the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 14,000 Americans who were 50 and over, specifically looking at known risk factors of disease such as smoking, obesity, and alcohol use.
Here’s what they found: People who had never smoked, were not obese, and drank moderate amounts of alcohol had a life expectancy that was seven years longer than that of the general population. They had good health during those extra years and had a delay in suffering a disability of up to six years when compared with their less healthy counterparts.
But not all of the risk factors were equal. Smoking was linked with early death but not with an increase in the number of years a person lived with a disability. Obesity, on the other hand, was connected with more years of living with a disability. Excessive alcohol use (which is defined as four or more drinks a day, or eight or more drinks a week for women; and five or more drinks a day or 15 or more a week for men) was linked with both a shorter lifespan and a greater number of years with a disability.
When broken down by gender, people who lived the healthiest lifestyles seemed to be doing very well. Men who weren’t overweight, had never smoked, and drank moderately lived an average of 11 years longer than those who were overweight, drank excessively, and smoked — and that number stretched to 12 years for women. (In case you’re not familiar with “moderate” drinking, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines it as having up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.)
Women’s health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, tells Yahoo Beauty that she’s “not surprised at all” by the findings. “We’ve heard that excess weight, alcohol, and tobacco smoke can be risk factors for all sorts of diseases — and this study just underscores that this type of ‘clean living’ can pay off in a big way,” she says.
Excessive alcohol use, obesity, and smoking have been linked with conditions and diseases that can cut a person’s life short, David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., points out. So, it stands to reason that without those risk factors, a person who maintains a healthy weight, drinks in moderation, and doesn’t smoke can enjoy a longer and healthier life.
The alcohol part is interesting, and Morton Tavel, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and author of Health Tips, Myths, and Tricks: A Physician’s Advice, tells Yahoo Beauty that its link to a healthier, longer life is “less certain.” “Earlier studies suggested that about one to two drinks per day (especially red wine) tended to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular diseases,” he says. “More recent studies, however, have cast some doubt on these earlier findings.” However, he adds, moderate drinking doesn’t seem to be bad for a person’s health. And, of course, you can’t do anything now about a previous smoking habit, but research has shown that the sooner you quit, the better your overall health.
So, if you want to lead a healthier, longer life, you know what to do.
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