From Our 2011 Archives

4 Keys to a Long Life

Survey Shows That Not Smoking, Exercise, Healthy Diet, and Moderate Drinking Cut Risk of Early Death

By Matt McMillen
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 18, 2011 -- Healthy living translates to longer life. That's the conclusion of a new CDC report published today in the American Journal of Public Health.

Using federal health survey data collected from 1988 to 2006, researchers determined that people ages 17 and older who don't smoke, exercise on a regular basis, eat a healthy diet, and drink moderately were 63% less likely to die at an early age than people who have yet to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Nearly 17,000 people participated in the survey.

Taken individually, each of the four healthy behaviors provides protection. But the greatest benefit occurs when people engage in all four.

Among those who practiced each of the four behaviors, the risk of death from cancer and heart disease was about two-thirds lower, while other causes of death were 57% lower, than those who did not practice any of them.

"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," CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH, says in a news release.

Women whose lifestyles included all four of the studied behaviors did slightly better than men. Their risk of death from all causes was 63% lower, while men's risk was 62% lower.

CDC Goal: Boost Healthy Habits

Looking at each of the four behaviors individually, people who did not smoke were at the lowest risk of death from cancer. Moderate alcohol consumption -- no more than two drinks a day for men, one drink per day for women -- was linked most strongly with lower rates of death from heart attacks and strokes.

Among the survey participants, between 40% and 50% already practiced at least one of the health behaviors the researchers studied. The goal, they write, is to boost those numbers significantly.

It's a task that won't be easy. While smoking rates have dropped and there's evidence that more people are exercising, there's less evidence that Americans are eating better than in years past.

"The challenges in convincing a larger proportion of people in the United States to adopt a healthy lifestyle are daunting," the researchers conclude. "The estimates of mortality that can be postponed underscore the need for improving the overall level of healthy living in the United States."

SOURCES: Ford, E. American Journal of Public Health, published online Aug. 18, 2011.News release, CDC. ©2011 WebMD, LLC. All Rights Reserved.