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Cut Death Risk by Changing These 5 Bad Habits

Study Shows Healthy Changes Can Reduce Risk of Death for Women
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 16, 2008 -- A new study suggests that middle-aged women who followed certain key lifestyle habits had lower risk for death than those who did not.

Researchers led by Robert van Dam, PhD, of Harvard University's School of Public Health, looked at death risk and five lifestyle factors: cigarette smoking, being overweight, low physical activity, no light or moderate alcohol use, and low-quality diet.

The team interviewed and followed 77,782 female nurses, beginning in 1980. At the start, the women were all cancer-free and did not have cardiovascular disease. They ranged in age from 34 to 59 years old at the start of the study.

The participants were given a questionnaire and followed up every two years for 24 years. They were asked about their lifestyle habits, whether they smoked cigarettes, exercised regularly, what they ate, whether they drank alcohol, and how much and whether they were overweight.

There were 8,882 deaths throughout the 24 years. Of those deaths:

  • 1,790 were from cardiovascular disease
  • 4,527 were from cancer
  • 55% of those deaths were estimated to have been due to smoking, lack of physical activity, being overweight, and low-quality diet
  • 28% of the deaths were tied to smoking

Having five of the five risk factors increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease by a factor of eight compared with having none of the risk factors. The risk of dying from cancer was three times higher and the risk of dying from any cause was four times greater.

Women with light to moderate alcohol intake, defined as up to one drink daily, were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease than those who did not drink any alcohol.

The researchers write that the findings should be one more wake-up call to people to make healthy changes like quitting smoking.

The study is published in BMJ Online.

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