NASHVILLE – Diabetes. Heart disease. Cancer. Stroke.
Would you avoid these if you could? According to new research, you can — just by taking up four healthy habits.
Study results published in the Archives of Internal Medicine focused on data from more than 23,000 Germans ages 35 to 65. The researchers wanted to see what effect four major lifestyle factors have on the risk of developing the leading causes of illness and death: cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.
The lifestyle factors they focused on were smoking status, body mass index (BMI), physical activity and diet. And what they found was that those participants who practiced four healthy habits had a nearly 80 percent reduced risk for major chronic illnesses compared to those who practiced none of these habits.
How can you take advantage of these findings?
Step 1: Never Smoke
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the adverse health effects of cigarette smoking account for about one out of every five deaths in the U.S. each year. While this study’s results are applicable only to people who have never smoked, smokers can still reap health rewards by quitting. For example, five to 15 years of living smoke-free reduces an ex-smoker’s stroke risk to the same level as that of a nonsmoker’s. The risk for coronary heart disease is cut in half just one year after quitting. If you need help quitting, talk with your doctor.
Step 2: Be Physically Active
Researchers in this study found a reduced risk for chronic disease in participants who exercised three-and-a-half hours or more a week—that’s just 30 minutes a day.
Add some exercise to your daily life by taking a brisk walk on your lunch hour or working out to an exercise video at home.
Step 3: Stick to a Healthy Diet
Research shows that eating a healthy, well-balanced diet may protect you from chronic disease. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain breads while limiting your intake of red meat.
Step 4: Maintain a Healthy Weight
Carrying around excess weight boosts your risk for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Most health care providers evaluate weight using BMI, which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. Simply put, the higher your BMI, the greater your risk for adverse health effects. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and 30 to 39.9 is obese. Talk with your doctor about your BMI.
“Any individual can start on all four of these steps right away,” said James Lancaster, M.D., internal medicine physician at Saint Thomas Hospital and the Saint Thomas Medical Group. “And once they start these lifestyle changes, they will not only reduce the chance of disease, but will also begin to add years to their lives.”
Saint Thomas Hospital is a member of Saint Thomas Health Services, a faith-based ministry with more than 8,000 associates serving Middle Tennessee. Saint Thomas Health Services’ regional health system consists of five hospitals – Baptist and Saint Thomas Hospitals and the Center for Spinal Surgery in Nashville, Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro and Hickman Community Hospital in Centerville – and a comprehensive network of affiliated joint ventures in diagnostics, cardiac services and ambulatory surgery as well as medical practices, clinics and rehabilitation facilities.