Four simple steps to add 10 years to your life

Researchers estimate that a healthy lifestyle can add a whole decade to your life—and they hope this information will be a motivator for people to change their behavior before it’s too late. The World Health Organization has identified four factors that have the biggest impact on promoting death due to “non-communicable diseases”—diseases that don’t spread by infection, like heart disease, Alzheimer’s and most forms of cancer—and you probably already know them all: smoking, alcohol, lack of exercise and poor diet.

Researchers from Switzerland have done some new calculations to illustrate just how important these four issues are to increasing our time on Earth. They used data from 16,721 people who participated in population studies from 1977 to 1993, and then tracked their survival up to 2008 by linking to national records. They found that having all four risk factors increased a person’s likelihood of dying over the next ten years by 2.5 times. Put another way, a 65-year-old with all four risk factors has the same likelihood of celebrating their 75th birthday as a 75-year-old with no risk factors is to celebrate their 85th. Smoking had the single biggest effect on mortality: smokers were 57% more likely to die prematurely compared to nonsmokers. The researchers hope that this information can help clinicians better explain the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle to patients in terms that will inspire them to make a change.

(Source: Preventive Medicine, 2014; doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2014.05.023.)

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