5 healthy habits that could protect you from chronic diseases

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A recent study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that maintaining five healthy habits—eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking—at middle-age may increase years lived free of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

This finding provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.

The study is published in BMJ. The lead author is Yanping Li, a senior research scientist in the Department of Nutrition.

Previous studies have found that following a healthy lifestyle improves overall life expectancy and reduces the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, but few studies have looked at the effects of lifestyle factors on life expectancy free from such diseases.

In the study, the researchers looked at 34 years of data from 73,196 women and 28 years of data from 38,366 men.

Healthy diet was defined as a high score on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index; regular exercise as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity; healthy weight as a body mass index of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2; and moderate alcohol intake as up to one serving per day for women and up to two for men.

They found that women who practiced four or five of the healthy habits at age 50 lived an average of 34.4 more years free of diabetes, heartdiseases, and cancer, compared to 23.7 healthy years among women who practiced none of these healthy habits.

Men practicing four or five healthy habits at age 50 lived 31.1 years free of chronic disease, compared to 23.5 years among men who practiced none.

Men who were current heavy smokers, and men and women with obesity, had the lowest disease-free life expectancy.

The team says given the high cost of chronic disease treatment, public policies to promote a healthy lifestyle by improving food and physical environments would help to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life.

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