Is living 14 years longer a good enough reason to make changes in your lifestyle?

A new, long-term study of healthy men and women aged 45 or over shows that the integrated effect of four personal habits will produce a longer life.

From 1993 to 1997, researchers from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council surveyed more than 20,000 healthy men and women in the English city of Norfolk to investigate the link between mortality and daily lifestyle choices. Participants, all between the ages of 45 and 79, had a health examination and answered questions about their alcohol consumption, physical activities and smoking. Blood was also taken to determine the level of vitamin C, which would indicate the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed. They received one point for each healthy behavior.

Life Expectancy

According to newly-released 2005 data from the Centers for Disease Control, life expectancy in the U.S. is now 77.9, with substantial variations by gender and race. That is two years longer than just ten years ago. For black men, the average is just under 69 years; for white men, 75; for black women, 76; and for white women, about 80. Canadian life expectancy is just over 80 years. In Britain, where the Norfolk study took place, projected life expectancy now stands at 76.9 years for a baby boy and 81.3 years for a girl. If you’d like a more personal assessment of your life expectancy, the MetLife insurance company provides a quick online calculator.

Eleven years later, they were checked again to see who had died and why. After allowing for age and other factors, those with scores of zero – the least healthy lifestyle – were four times more likely to have died, particularly of cardiovascular disease, than those with the healthiest score of four. Calculations showed that those with the healthiest lifestyles were likely to live 14 years longer than those who practiced none of the four habits.

The focus of the study was the integrated effect of all four behaviors on life expectancy. Those who only adopted one or two of the behaviors showed less improvement than those who did all four. The healthy choices made a difference in the participants’ cardiovascular health, which was the main reason they lived longer.

With heart disease the leading cause of death among Americans and Canadians, most people – particularly those over 45 – can probably live longer by incorporating these simple habits into their daily lifestyles.

[Jennifer E. Jones]