4 health behaviors can add 14 extra years of life

People who adopt four healthy behaviours – not smoking; taking exercise; moderate alcohol intake; and eating five servings of fruit and vegetables a day – live on average an additional fourteen years of life compared with people who adopt none of these behaviours, according to a study published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine.

Rather than focusing on how an individual factor is related to health, the study calculates the combined impact of these four simply-defined forms of behaviour. The results suggest that several small changes in lifestyle could have a marked impact on the health of populations.

There is overwhelming evidence showing that lifestyles such as smoking, diet and physical activity influence health and longevity but there is little information about their combined impact. Furthermore the huge amount of information provided by these studies and the varying definitions of a health behaviour that these studies use can often make them confusing for public health professionals and for the general public. For example: small amounts of alcohol appear to be related to lower risk of cardiovascular disease health but what is the overall impact on longevity “

In order to examine the combined impact of changes in lifestyle, Kay-Tee Khaw and colleagues from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council used a health behaviour score that is easy to understand in order to assess the participants in the study (who were from Norfolk, United Kingdom). Between 1993 and 1997, 20,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 79, none of whom had known cancer or heart or circulatory disease, completed a questionnaire that resulted in a score between 0 and 4. A point was awarded for each of the following: not currently smoking; not being physically inactive (physical inactivity was defined as having a sedentary job and not doing any recreational exercise); a moderate alcohol intake of 1-14 units a week (a unit is half a pint of beer or a glass of wine); and a blood vitamin C level consistent with eating five servings of fruit or vegetables a day. Deaths among the participants were recorded unti l 2006.

After factoring in age, the results showed that over an average period of eleven years people with a score of 0 – i.e. those who did not undertake any of these healthy forms of behaviour – were four times more likely to have died than those who had scored 4 in the questionnaire. Furthermore, the researchers calculate that a person who has a health score of 0 has the same risk of dying as someone 14 years older who had scored 4 in the questionnaire (i.e. someone engaging in all four healthy forms of behaviour). This was independent of social class and body mass index. The study forms part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), conducted across ten European countries, the largest study of diet and health ever undertaken.

As a related editorial discusses, individuals in isolation often cannot make the lifestyle changes they want and a set of complex processes affect how research is translated into effective public health policy.

The results of this study need to be confirmed in other populations and an analysis of how the combined health behaviours affect quality of life is also needed. Nevertheless the results of the study strongly suggest that these four achievable lifestyle changes could have a marked improvement on the health of middle-aged and older people, which is particularly important given the ageing population in the UK and other European countries.

Source: Public Library of Science  


11 thoughts on “4 health behaviors can add 14 extra years of life

  1. Pingback: tagaAmerica.com » 4 health behaviors can add 14 extra years of life « Biosingularity

  2. cak

    So much is made about living these extra years, but who really wants an extra 14 years taked onto your life, if you are going to be senile, decripit and living in a retirement home? I do all these health measures, but it is so that I feel good now, not that I want to live longer. Of course, I may feel differently later.

  3. bobobobo


    I was also reading an article about this guy Terman. Terman identified smart people at a young age through “IQ tests” and, with their consent, tracked many aspects of their lives in great detail.

    As a side effect, scientists now had a great set of data to look through!

    One scientist was looking for links between longevity and personality traits.

    “Conscientiousness, he found, had the greatest life-extending effect. Self-esteem had no effect, while cheerfulness actually seemed to shorten their lives — “perhaps because it . . . led people to ignore risks to their health. . ”

    pretty interesting

    The original article is from

  4. Pingback: Pollyanna Is Worried… « Pollyanna Rainbow Sunshine and the Needles of Doom

  5. What is often neglected in the positive effect of having an active mind. People who are engaged in activities that require mental work usually live longer. This includes possessing a positive outlook about life, always feeling happy and enjoying every moment. Longevity isn’t just about physical attributes that arise out of diet and exercise. An individual’s frame of mind is just as important.

  6. @cak

    The idea is if you live a healthy life, not only will you live longer, but the quality of those years will be better. (like some of the 80/90 year olds here in Japan, who not only look younger but often run circles around young adults) The people who end up senile, decrepit, and in a nursing home are those that do not live healthy lives and so their bodies’ have ended up “going bad” so to speak.

    It certainly is better to live for the moment (now) rather than a future than may or may not ever come, but if you can learn to enjoy being healthy now, well so much the better, and you may well be rewarded for it in 50 years.

  7. Pingback: Too Much Blogging! « blueollie

  8. Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe that this amazing site needs far more attention. I’ll probably be back again to read more, thanks for the advice!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s