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Four bad habits increase death risk

bad lifestyle choices combine to increase death risk Could add twelve years to your age

Smoking, drinking, a poor diet and lack of exercise have all been linked to heart disease, cancer and other life threatening diseases. Until now, these have been looked at in isolation.

Now a new study has looked at how these factors combine when present in the same person, with the results showing that each additional “bad behaviour” increases risk of death.

Scientists from Norway interviewed nearly 5,000 adults in 1984 and 1985 about their lifestyles, creating a “health behaviour score” by allocating one point for each poor behaviour: smoking; fruits and vegetables consumed less than three times daily; less than two hours physical activity per week; and weekly consumption of more than 14 units of alcohol (in women) and more than 21 units (in men).

Participants were then followed up over a 20 year period, in which 1,080 participants died - 431 from heart disease, 318 from cancer and 331 from other causes.

Analysing the data showed that the risk of dying increased with each additional poor health behaviour. Individuals with four compared with zero poor health behaviours had about three times the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease or cancer, four times the risk of dying from other causes and an overall death risk equivalent to being 12 years older.

Commenting on the findings, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, Ellen Mason, said:

“If someone smokes, isn’t physically active, drinks too much alcohol and doesn’t eat enough fruit and veg, 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."

The researchers call for governments to promote healthy diets and lifestyles as a matter of policy, while Mason calls for individuals to also take responsiblity for their own health : "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."

The study is published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

This article was published on Tue 27 April 2010



Image © Marin Conic - Fotolia.com


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