A new study says that four healthy lifestyle factors can help keep the most common and deadly chronic diseases at bay.
The four healthy lifestyle factors are never smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and following a healthy diet.
The study has been reported in the August 10/24 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
"An impressive body of research has implicated modifiable lifestyle factors such as smoking, physical activity, diet and body weight in the causes of these diseases," the authors write.
To reach the conclusion, Earl S. Ford, M.D., M.P.H., of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, and colleagues assessed data from 23,513 German adults age 35 to 65. At the beginning of the European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam (EPIC-Potsdam) study-between 1994 and 1998-participants completed an assessment of their body weight and height, a personal interview that included questions about diseases, a questionnaire on sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics and a food frequency questionnaire.
Their responses were assessed for adherence to four healthy lifestyle factors: never smoking, having a body mass index lower than 30, exercising for at least three and a half hours per week and following healthy dietary principles (for example, having a diet with high consumption of fruits and vegetables while limiting meat consumption).
Follow-up questionnaires were administered every two to three years.
Most participants had one to three of these health factors, fewer than 4 percent had zero healthy factors and 9 percent had all four factors. Over an average of 7.8 years of follow-up, 2,006 participants developed new cases of diabetes (3.7 percent), heart attack (0.9 percent), stroke (0.8 percent) or cancer (3.8 percent).
After adjusting for age, sex, education level and occupation, individuals with more healthy lifestyle factors were less likely to develop chronic diseases.
Participants who had all four factors at the beginning of the study had a 78 percent lower risk of developing any of the chronic diseases during the follow-up period than those who had none of the healthy factors. The four factors were associated with a 93 percent reduced risk of diabetes, 81 percent reduced risk of heart attack, 50 percent reduced risk of stroke and 36 percent reduced risk of cancer.
The largest reduction in risk was associated with having a BMI lower than 30, followed by never smoking, at least 3.5 hours of physical activity and then adhering to good dietary principles.