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4 Healthy Habits That Cut Disease Risk

Study Shows People Who Follow 4 Habits Sharply Reduce Risk of Serious Disease
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 10, 2009 -- Don't smoke. Get off the sofa and take a walk. Stay away from the junk food. Watch your waistline.

You may have heard the advice before. But did you know that if you follow all four of these healthy habits together, you could decrease your chances of developing some of the most common and deadly chronic diseases by nearly 80%?

Researchers reporting in this month's Archives of Internal Medicine analyzed the health, lifestyles, and diet of 23,513 German adults 35 to 65 years old, starting in the mid-1990s. The study showed that those who had more healthy habits were much less likely to get diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

The analysis included a detailed look at each person's body weight and height, disease background, food frequency, and how well they followed these four healthy lifestyle habits over the eight-year study period:

  • Never smoked
  • Exercised at least 3.5 hours per week
  • Maintained a body mass index (BMI) under 30
  • Followed a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads, and limited in meats

Most of the people in the study had at least one healthy habit; only 9% said they followed all four.

After adjusting for risk factors that might influence the development of disease, the researchers learned that those who followed all four healthy habits had a 78% lower risk of developing a chronic condition such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer compared to those who reported none of the healthy habits.

Specifically, in the study, all four of the healthy habits combined were linked to a:

  • 93% lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • 81% lower risk of heart attack
  • 50% lower risk of stroke
  • 36% lower risk of cancer 

Researchers say it's important to adopt and teach healthy habits early in life. Their findings "reinforce current public health recommendations to avoid smoking, to maintain a healthy weight, to engage in physical activity appropriately and to eat adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables and foods containing whole grains and to partake of red meat prudently," study author Earl S. Ford, MD, MPH, of the CDC, and colleagues write.

The following habits may help you lower your risk of developing chronic diseases. They are listed in order of largest to smallest impact on disease risk, as determined by the recent study.

  1. Maintain a healthy weight. Your body mass index should be lower than 30.  
  2. Never smoke. (But if you already do, you should quit.)
  3. Get at least 3.5 hours of exercise every week.
  4. Follow a healthy diet. Ask your doctor for recommendations.

 

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