By Michael Kahn Tue Jan 8, 8:34 AM ET
LONDON (Reuters) – People who drink moderately, exercise, quit smoking and eat five servings of fruit and vegetables each day live on average 14 years longer than people who adopt none of these behaviors, researchers said on Tuesday.
Overwhelming evidence has shown that these things contribute to healthier and longer lives, but the new study actually quantified their combined impact, the British team said.
“These results may provide further support for the idea that even small differences in lifestyle may make a big difference to health in the population and encourage behavior change,” the researchers wrote in the journal PLoS Medicine.
Between 1993 and 1997 the researchers questioned 20,000 healthy British men and women about their lifestyles. They also tested every participant’s blood to measure vitamin C intake, an indicator of how much fruit and vegetables people ate.
Then they assigned the participants — aged 45-79 — a score of between 0 and 4, giving one point for each of the healthy behaviors.
After allowing for age and other factors that could affect the likelihood of dying, the researchers determined people with a score of 0 were four times as likely to have died, particularly from cardiovascular disease.
The researchers, who tracked deaths among the participants until 2006, also said a person with a health score of 0 had the same risk of dying as someone with a health score of 4 who was 14 years older.
The lifestyle change with the biggest benefit was giving up smoking, which led to an 80 percent improvement in health, the study found. This was followed by eating fruits and vegetables.
Moderate drinking and keeping active brought the same benefits, Kay-Tee Khaw and colleagues at the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council said.
“Armed with this information, public-health officials should now be in a better position to encourage behavior changes likely to improve the health of middle-aged and older people,” the researchers wrote.
(Reporting by Michael Kahn, Editing by Will Dunham and Jon Boyle)
Slightly more than half of middle-aged adults and seniors in the United States take aspirin daily to prevent heart attack, stroke or other serious illnesses, a new survey has found.
Leading medical associations recommend use of low-dose aspirin mainly to prevent a second heart attack or stroke. But many others who haven’t had a heart problem also take aspirin regularly, researchers found.
A doctor who helped write the national guidelines for low-dose, or “baby,” aspirin use said that the number of people found by the survey to be taking daily aspirin “seems about right to me.”
“If 100 percent were taking it, I’d be really concerned,” said Dr. Robert Bonow, a professor of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
“Fifty percent in this age group seems appropriate to me, considering their risk factors,” added Bonow, who helped write the guidelines issued by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology.
Most appear to start taking daily aspirin after discussing the matter with a health care provider, said study lead author Craig Williams, a pharmacotherapy specialist at Oregon State University in Portland.
That’s appropriate, he said.
“We would really advocate that patients engage in those discussions with their primary provider or a cardiologist, if they have one,” Williams said. “We don’t advocate patients make their own decisions about whether they should use aspirin or not, because it does have some dangerous side effects and it’s not for everyone.”
For one thing, even low-dose aspirin (81 milligrams) can cause stomach bleeding, the researchers warned. It’s not a huge risk, Williams said, affecting only about five out of 1,000 older patients, but it’s enough that the guidelines do not automatically recommend daily aspirin use for all adults to prevent a first heart attack or stroke.
Aspirin has two primary benefits for the heart and circulatory system, Bonow said.
The drug, a blood thinner, can prevent clots from forming in arteries that can cause a stroke or heart attack, he said. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent plaques inside arteries from becoming unstable and rupturing, which also can contribute to blockages.