4 bad habits to break

Living an unhealthy lifestyle can add a dozen years to your age, researchers say.

When people combine four common bad habits — smoking, drinking too much, inactivity and poor diet — they increase their risk of death, and can actually appear 12 years older than people who have a healthier lifestyle, researchers said.

For the study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers tracked nearly 5,000 British adults for 20 years. Of the participants, 314 engaged in all four unhealthy behaviours, while slightly more (387) had none of these habits.

The results? Among the unhealthy group, 29 per cent died during the course of the study, comparing with only 8 per cent of the healthiest group. The most common causes of death were heart disease and cancer — both of which researchers said were related to unhealthy lifestyles.

People most at risk were those who:

– Smoked tobacco.

– Consumed more than three alcoholic drinks per day for men and more than two daily for women.

– Got less than two hours of physical activity per week.

– Ate fruits and vegetables fewer than three times daily.

“These habits combined substantially increased the risk of death and made people who engaged in them seem 12 years older than people in the healthiest group,” lead researcher Elisabeth Kvaavik of the University of Oslo said in a release.

The healthiest group included non-smokers (including those who had never smoked and those who had quit) and moderate or non-drinkers. They also got at least two hours of physical activity each week and ate fruits and vegetables at least three times daily.

Researchers noted that most people would not need to make extreme changes in their habits to be considered in the healthy category.

For example, one carrot, one apple and a glass of orange juice would suffice for the fruit and vegetable cutoffs in the study, Kvaavik told the Associated Press. The amounts used in the study were fairly modest and less strict than many guidelines.

In addition to a healthy diet, exercise, moderate alcohol intake and avoiding tobacco use, other research has shown that having a satisfying social life, good sleep quality and getting regular medical exams are important for healthy aging. (See The keys to a long and healthy life.)

Sources: JAMA/Archives journals, news release, April 26, 2010; HealthDay News; The Associated Press; MedicalNewsToday; Mayo Clinic

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ Alex Potemkin

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