Healthy Lifestyle? Americans Get Failing Grade
< Nov. 17, 2010 > -- Want to live a long, healthy life? Follow seven simple guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA): Don't smoke, maintain a body mass index (BMI) within the normal range; exercise regularly; eat a healthy diet; and keep your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar low.
Trouble is, most Americans aren’t doing these things, the AHA says. Only about a third of Americans have a BMI of less than 25, the threshold between normal weight and overweight. And only about a quarter of Americans meet the weekly exercise goals recommended by the federal government.
Better lifestyle, longer life
One study of almost 18,000 people found that only 0.01 percent followed all seven health recommendations. Only 25 percent had four or more factors at ideal levels, even though having more of these lifestyle components under control means fewer deaths at a younger age.
Meeting five or more of the factors decreased mortality by 55 percent. Each added ideal health factor lowered the risk of dying by 14 percent over the four years of the trial.
A second study, which followed almost 80,000 healthy women, found that more than half of all sudden cardiac deaths could have been prevented if four lifestyle factors were kept in check: not smoking, staying at a healthy weight, eating well, and exercising. Women with two ideal factors reduced their risk of sudden cardiac death by 33 percent, and those with three factors lowered their risk by half. With four ideal factors, the risk went down by 77 percent.
Both studies were presented this week at the AHA’s annual meeting in Chicago.
Genes play only small role
Many Americans may blame their bad health on genetic factors, but another study presented at the AHA conference found that genes contribute little to the problem. Genetics accounts for only 18 percent of cardiovascular health at age 40 and even less, 13 percent, at age 50.
"It's true that genetic factors play a small role," says Rita Redberg, M.D., an AHA spokeswoman and professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco. "It's helpful for patients to focus on things that can be changed. Diet and physical activity can be changed, and smoking can be stopped.
“Study after study after study shows that people who eat a good diet – fruits and vegetables and grains – exercise regularly [and] don't smoke live longer and have fewer heart attacks. You can't beat it."
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Why Quit Smoking?
You know you should quit smoking. But you just haven't gotten around to it yet. Here are some reasons to help you commit to quitting:
• Healthier life. As soon as you stop smoking, your body starts to recover. Within 10 years, your risk of lung cancer will be almost the same as if you’d never smoked.
• Improved cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. You’ll lower your risk for heart disease.
• Brighter smile. Smoking coats your teeth with nicotine and tar.
• Fewer wrinkles. Nicotine can block the blood supply to your skin, and tobacco smoke can dry it.
• Better taste. Smoking interferes with your senses of taste and smell.
• Fewer colds. Smoking damages your airways and makes you more prone to coughs, colds, and infections.
• More money. A pack of cigarettes costs between $3 and $5. If you smoked a pack a day for a year, you'd spend at least $1,095.
Post your list of reasons for quitting where you can see it every day. Quitting smoking may be the most difficult, but also the most rewarding, thing you ever do.
Consult your health care provider for assistance with quitting smoking if you need help.
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