In: Training

How much time will a healthier lifestyle get you?

Hardly a day goes past without the media suggesting that we should be adopting a healthier lifestyle to live longer and better lives.  It won’t surprise you to hear that Thrive supports anything which triggers an improvement in our health and fitness, but sometimes the messages get lost in the noise.  A new report published in the British Medical Journal should help clarify the position.

The report looked at lifestyle behaviours of over 110,000 nurses and other health professionals in the UK and US from the 1980s onwards (a total of over 3 million years of follow up), having discarded data from any who had previously been diagnosed with cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

Time passing

Specifically, it looked at the following lifestyle behaviours:

  • Healthy eating: Quality of diet assessed through a recognised healthy eating index
  • Smoking status: Split between never, given up and current smoking levels
  • Activity level: From none to 3.5 or more hours of moderate activity per week
  • Alcohol consumption: From none up to twice the UK weekly maximum guideline
  • Body mass index (BMI): A full range of BMIs, including the 18.5-24.9 ideal range

And the winner is …

… Each of us, if we choose to win, that is.

The results were standardised to show the life expectancy of someone currently aged 50, based on how many of the five healthy lifestyle behaviours they adopt.

  • Women who adopt four or five of the healthy behaviours can expect to live 9.4 years longer than those who don’t adopt any of the healthy lifestyle behaviours.
  • The figures for men are also positive, but to a lesser degree. Men can expect to live for 8.1 years longer than those who fail to adopt any of the healthy behaviours.
Extra years from living healthily

Not only did they look at longevity, they also reported an aspect of quality of life by estimating how many years people can expect to remain free from cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

On average, the greater number of healthy lifestyle behaviours you adopt, the lower the proportion of life after 50 you’ll spend living with cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes:

  • For women, those with the most healthy behaviours can expect to live with these conditions 16.4% of the time from 50 years onwards. Compare this to 25.2% for those with none of the healthy behaviours.
  • For men, the figures are 21.0% for the most healthy, rising to 24.7% for the least healthy.

Finally, those who adopted four or five healthy behaviours reported markedly lower incidence of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.  Compared to those with none of the healthy behaviours, women’s incidence of those conditions was 50%, with men’s being 60%.

What does this mean for you?

In summary, adopting more (even just one) healthy behaviours will increase your chances of:

  • living longer;
  • avoiding cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes; and
  • if you’re unfortunate enough to develop one or more of those conditions, dealing with it in a relatively shorter time period.

With respect to each of the behaviours, here are some ideas to get you moving in the right direction:

Healthy eating

Almost everyone has a view on what a healthy eating plan looks like.  It really does depend on the individual, but a good basis to start includes:

  • Lean protein with every meal
  • More non-starchy vegetables than you think are necessary.
  • Reduce the amount of processed carbohydrates you eat.
  • Don’t be scared of eating fat.
  • Keep your nutrition balanced and eat in moderation. Going to one extreme or another for extended periods of time is not likely to be healthy.

Weight management

The study used BMI as an indication of a healthy weight.  Whilst BMI has its issues, it does actually work pretty well for most of the population.  Yes, if you’re a bodybuilder carrying massive amounts of extra muscle compared to the general population, it’s not going to be right for you, but that’s a pretty small number of people.  And I’ve seen plenty of bodybuilders whose excess weight includes a significant amount of body fat too.

An ideal BMI is 18.5-24.9 and it’s measured by talking your weight in kilograms and dividing it by your height in meters squared.

As you can’t do much about your height, you can improve your BMI by managing your body weight.  You can do this through eating appropriately for your size, activity levels, health status, and health and fitness goals.  This is a huge subject, so get in contact if you want our help.

Smoking

The sharpest improvement in life expectancy across the five healthy behaviours is from stopping smoking.  Those who have never smoked are expected to live 9-10 years longer than those who smoke 25 or more cigarettes a day.

And it’s never too late to quit.  Just last week scientists announced that ex-smokers’ airways start repairing themselves, even after decades of heavy smoking.  The extent of repair happening in the critical part of the lungs (where oxygen moves to the blood stream) is not clear, but we already know the sooner you stop, the more benefit you will get.

The best advice from us is to speak to your GP about stopping smoking if you need help.

Alcohol consumption

There is no 100% safe level of alcohol consumption.  All alcohol contributes to shortening your life.

You’re probably poised to write a comment about how a glass of red wine every night is good for you.  Unfortunately, the original research (based on French drinking habits in the 1980s) has since been debunked.

The only time it may have a benefit is in lowering the risk of suffering a non-fatal heart attack.  For everything else, alcohol is associated with higher risk of stroke, heart failure, aortic aneurism and hypertensive (high blood pressure) disease.  The greater your drinking the higher your risk.  There seems to be no threshold at which drinking is safe or beneficial.

So, having a daily drink is quite a gamble to take if the only benefit is the potential to reduce your risk of suffering a non-fatal heart attack, particularly when living a healthier lifestyle generally is a more proven approach to reducing the risk.

Activity levels

The study set 3.5+ hours of moderate to vigorous exercise a week as it’s top range.  That’s 30 minutes a day of activity from brisk walking upwards.  Brisk walking should make you slightly short of breath, warm, and may be a little flushed.

If you are already exercising longer or harder than this, then keep it up!  If you don’t, then start with brisk walking, stair climbing, join an aerobics or dance class.  Or speak to us about a bespoke training plan.

In summary

If you want a healthier and longer life, then do something, even just one thing, to be healthier.  Then do it consistently like it means something to you.

Are you ready to thrive?