Are You Living a "Healthy Lifestyle?"

Find out how you stack up to the rest of America

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D.

Despite the best intentions of health care providers and public health agencies, it seems that Americans have a long way to go before they start following the good health advice they receive. The importance of a healthy lifestyle in the prevention of chronic disease is widely understood and most people know that lifestyle changes and choices can be critical determinants of their health and longevity. Yet, according to survey data, less than 5% of the population in the United States practices four healthy behaviors that constitute a healthy lifestyle.

For a study of the health practices of adult Americans, researchers classified having a "healthy lifestyle" as adhering to four behavioral patterns:

  1. Nonsmoking
  2. Regular physical activity (30 or more minutes per day at least 5 times a week)
  3. Consumption of 5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day
  4. Maintenance of a healthy weight with a body mass index (BMI) in the range of 18.5-25.0

The study authors looked at the responses to random digit-dialed telephone surveys in the year 2000. Responses from over 153,000 adults were included in the study.

Nonsmoking was the healthy lifestyle practice followed by the greatest number of respondents, with 76% of Americans classifying themselves as nonsmokers. Only 40% of people said that they maintain a healthy weight. Less than a quarter of adults (23%) consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. Regular physical exercise was the practice least likely to be followed, with only 22% of respondents reporting that they exercise five or more times per week.

A surprisingly low number of people follow all four of the health-promoting behaviors -- only 3% of American adults adhere to the four tenets of a healthy lifestyle defined in this study. This study confirms that compliance with public health recommendations is remarkably low among US adults.

How healthy is your lifestyle? For more, please visit the Nutrition, Fitness, and Healthy Living areas.

Reference: Reeves MJ and Rafferty AP. Healthy Lifestyle Characteristics among Adults in the United States, 2000. Arch Intern Med. 2005; 165: 854-857.

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