In a study from the National Cancer Institute, scientists found former smokers who stick to a healthy lifestyle have a lower risk of dying from all causes than those who don’t engage in healthy habits.
The reduced risk of dying was found for specific causes, including cancer and heart and lung diseases.
Lifestyle interventions have not been robustly studied in former smokers, and these new findings could have important implications for the 52 million former smokers in the United States.
Quitting smoking is well known to have many health benefits, but former smokers still have a higher risk of disease and premature death than people who have never smoked.
Past studies have suggested that people who follow healthy lifestyle recommendations, such as maintaining healthy body weight, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, and limiting alcohol consumption, may have a lower risk of disease and death.
In the study, the team used data from a large group of former smokers who participated in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.
The current analysis included 159,937 former smokers, whose average age at study entry was 62.6 years and was followed for approximately 19 years.
The team found maintaining a healthy lifestyle—defined as doing things such as being physically active and having a healthy diet—was linked to a 27% reduction in the risk of death over the 19-year follow-up period, compared with not maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
In addition, participants with the highest scores had a 24% reduction in risk of death from cancer, a 28% reduction in risk of death from heart disease, and a 30% reduction in risk of death from respiratory disease.
The reductions in risk of death were observed regardless of health status, other health conditions, how many cigarettes participants used to smoke per day, years since they quit, and age they began smoking.
The researchers also evaluated the benefit of adherence to individual lifestyle recommendations.
In each case, people with the highest score had a lower risk of death than those with the lowest score: 17% lower for physical activity, 14% lower for body weight, 9% lower for diet quality, and 4% lower for alcohol intake.
The team says to have the greatest benefit, it is better to adhere to many lifestyle recommendations. But even those who adopted just a single lifestyle recommendation experienced benefits.
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The study was conducted by Maki Inoue-Choi et al and published in JAMA Network Open.
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