CDC: People live longer if they practice healthy behaviors (Duh!)

It won’t come as a surprise to any wellness professional, but research has now made it official. People can live longer if they practice one or more healthy lifestyle behaviors. That was the conclusion of a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The behaviors studied included not smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and limiting alcohol.

During the study period, people who engaged in all four healthy behaviors were 63% less likely to die early, compared to people who did not practice any of the behaviors. Not smoking provided the most protection from dying from all of the causes examined.

“If you want to lead a longer life and feel better, you should adopt healthy behaviors – not smoking, getting regular physical activity, eating healthy, and avoiding excessive alcohol use,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH.”

People who engaged in all four healthy behaviors were 66% less likely to die early from cancer, 65% less likely to die early from cardiovascular disease, and 57% less likely to die early from other causes compared to people who did not engage in any of the healthy behaviors.

Researchers analyzed data from CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III Mortality Study, a mortality follow-up of NHANES III survey of participants aged 17 years and older recruited from 1988 to 1994 and followed through 2006.

The researchers defined low-risk health behaviors as never smoking, eating a healthy diet, moderate intensity or vigorous intensity physical activity, and moderate alcohol consumption. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, men should drink no more than two drinks per day; women, one drink per day.

Among people in the CDC study, 47.5% had never smoked, 51% were moderate drinkers, 39.3%  had a healthy diet, and 40.2% were adequately physically active. The percentage of people who reported low-risk behaviors did not differ significantly by gender. Mexican-Americans had more healthy behaviors compared to whites and African-Americans.

The authors noted the challenges in encouraging a large percentage of the US population to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Yet, although studies have shown only a small percentage of people have adopted all of these healthy lifestyle behaviors, significant progress has been made in decreasing the rate of people who smoke. This study adds to the mounting evidence of the substantial gain in life associated with healthy behaviors, and underscores the need for the clinical and public health communities to work together to promote greater adoption of these behaviors.

SOURCES: “Low-Risk Lifestyle Behaviors and All-Cause Mortality: Findings from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III Mortality Study.” American Journal of Public Health; Oct. 2011 Highlights. Online
Press Release: CDC, Aug. 18, 2011.

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