An unhealthy lifestyle makes you '12 years older'
Published 03/06/2010 | 11:06
Millions of people have such an unhealthy lifestyle that the effect on their bodies is the same as adding 12 years to their age, research has found.
A study has found that the combination of four unhealthy lifestyle factors; smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and drinking too much increased the risk of dying by such a large degree that it was the equivalent to being 12 years older.
The study found just over six per cent of people admitted to having all four bad behaviours.
One third of people who admitted smoking, drinking excessively, eating poorly and failing to exercise died within the 20-year duration of the study.
People with one or two of the bad habits also increased the risk of dying but by lesser amounts, the study of almost 5,000 British adults found.
The majority of deaths were caused by heart disease and cancer.
Lead author Dr Elisabeth Kvaavik, of University of Oslo, in Norway, said: “Several studies have shown that specific health behaviours, including cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, higher alcohol intake and, to a lesser extent, diets low in fruits and vegetables, are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature mortality [death].
"Modest but achievable adjustments to lifestyle behaviours are likely to have a considerable impact at both the individual and population level.
"Developing more efficacious methods by which to promote healthy diets and lifestyles across the population should be an important priority of public health policy.”
In the study subjects were asked whether they smoked, ate fruit and vegetables less than three times a day, took less than two hours of physical activity per week and drank more the recommended weekly limit of alcohol which is 14 units for women and 21 units for men.
The researchers then followed the participants for an average of 20 years and noted what happened to them.
It was found that one unhealthy lifestyle behaviour increased the likelihood of dying in that time by 85 per cent. Two poor behaviours increased the risk by two and quarter fold, three behaviours by two and three quarter fold and all four behaviours by three and a half fold compared with those who had none of the bad habits.
Smoking had the biggest effect on the chances of dying from cancer, increasing the risk by 58 per cent.
Lack of exercise increased the risk of dying from cancer by just over half and increased the risk of dying from heart disease by just under half.
Consuming more than the recommended maximum units of alcohol per week increased the risk of dying from cancer or from heart disease by around a quarter.
Poor diet had no effect on cancer and increased the likelihood of dying from heart disease by a small amount, the study published in Archives of Internal Medicine found.
Ellen Mason, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “If someone smokes, isn’t physically active, drinks too much alcohol and doesn’t eat enough fruit and veg, they could be ageing themselves by around 12 years and running the risk of dying earlier than they should.
“This is another study which finds that the more unhealthy your lifestyle, the greater your chances of getting heart and circulatory disease.
“Improving your lifestyle choices one by one, rather than trying to do them all at once, is an easier way to improve your chances of avoiding these illnesses.
“Whatever age you really are, dropping bad habits could reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and an early death.”