All those people who do not smoking, exercise, intake moderate amounts of alcohol and eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day - live on average an additional fourteen years of life compared with people who adopt none of these four healthy behaviours, says a new study.
The study, conducted by Kay-Tee Khaw and colleagues from the University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council, calculates the combined impact of these four simply defined forms of behaviour.
The research suggests that several small changes in lifestyle could have a marked impact on the health of populations.
In the study, the researchers used a health behaviour score that is easy to understand in order to assess the participants in the study.
Between 1993 and 1997, 20,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 79, none of whom had known cancer or heart or circulatory disease, completed a questionnaire that resulted in a score between 0 and 4.
A point was awarded for each of the following: not currently smoking; not being physically inactive, where physical inactivity was defined as having a sedentary job and not doing any recreational exercise; a moderate alcohol intake of 1-14 units a week (a unit is half a pint of beer or a glass of wine); and a blood vitamin C level consistent with eating five servings of fruit or vegetables a day. Deaths among the participants were recorded until 2006.
The analysis results showed that over an average period of eleven years people with a score of 0, i.e. those who did not undertake any of these healthy forms of behaviour were four times more likely to have died than those who had scored 4 in the questionnaire.
Furthermore, the researchers calculated that a person who has a health score of 0 has the same risk of dying as someone 14 years older who had scored 4 in the questionnaire (i.e. someone engaging in all four healthy forms of behaviour). This was independent of social class and body mass index.
The results of the study strongly suggest that the four achievable lifestyle changes could have a marked improvement on the health of middle-aged and older people.
The study is published in the open access journal PLoS Medicine.