How is it that the United States spends the most money on health care, yet still has one of the lowest life expectancies of most developed nations?
Maybe those of us in healthcare have been taking a look at everything wrong, for too long.
Healthy lifestyle and longevity
Researchers conducted in-depth research of the impact of health habits on life span, using data from regular participants and medical professionals. Which means that they had data on a huge number of people over a very long time frame.
The researchers viewed data on diet, physical activity, body weight, smoking, and alcohol consumption that had been collected from regularly administered validated questionnaires.
What is a healthy lifestyle, exactly?
These five areas were chosen because prior studies show them to have a large impact on the risk of early death. Here's how these healthy behaviors were described and measured:
1. A healthy diet, that was computed and rated based on the reported intake of healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy body fat, and omega-3 essential fatty acids, and unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans excess fat, and sodium.
2. Healthy physical activity level, that was measured as at least 30 minutes each day of moderate to energetic activity daily.
3. Healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index (BMI), which is between 18.5 and 24.9.
4. Smoking, well, there is no healthy amount of smoking. “Healthy” here intended never having smoked.
5. Moderate alcohol intake, which was measured as between 5 and 15 grams per day for ladies, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. Generally, one drink includes about 14 grams of 100 % pure alcoholic beverages. That’s 12 ounces of regular beverage, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
Researchers also looked at data on age, ethnicity, and medication use, as well as assessment data from the National Health and Diet Examination Studies and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Wide-Ranging Data for COMPREHENSIVE Research.
Does a wholesome lifestyle change lives?
As it works out, healthy behaviors make a big difference. According to the analysis, people who fulfilled criteria for any five habits loved significantly, impressively much longer lives than those who acquired none: 14 years for ladies and 12 years for men. Individuals who got none of the habits were far more likely to pass away prematurely from malignancy or coronary disease.
Study investigators also calculated life expectancy by how many of the five healthy behaviors people had. Just one single healthy habit (and it didn’t matter which) … just one… extended life span by two years in women and men. And in addition, the more healthy habits people acquired, the longer their lifespan. This is one of those situations where I wish I possibly could reprint their graphs for you because they’re so cool.
That is huge. And, it confirms prior similar research – a lot of prior similar research. A 2017 research using data from medical and Retirement Research found that individuals 50 and older who had been normal weight, had never smoked, and drank alcohol in moderation lived normally seven years longer. A 2012 mega-analysis of 15 international studies that included over 500,000 participants found that over fifty percent of premature deaths were credited to unhealthy lifestyle factors such as poor diet, inactivity, obesity, excessive alcoholic beverages intake, and smoking. And the list of supporting research goes on.
So what’s the problem
As the authors of the study point out, in America we tend to spend outlandishly on developing fancy drugs and other treatments for diseases, rather than on trying to prevent them. That is a huge problem.
Experts have suggested that the best way to help people make nutritious diet and lifestyle change reaches the large-scale, human population level, through community health efforts and policy changes. (Kind of like motorbike helmets and seat belt legislation…) We've made a little improvement with tobacco and trans-fat legislation. This is my try to deliver what has worked for me and I encourage you to party.
There’s a great deal of pushback from big industry on that, of course. If we have guidelines and laws and regulations helping us to live healthier, big companies aren’t going to sell as much junk food, chips, and soda. As well as for companies hell-bent on earning money at the cost of human life, well, that makes them very irritated.