A healthy lifestyle halves the risk of premature death in women

September 17, 2008

Over half of deaths in women from chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease could be avoided if they never smoke, keep their weight in check, take exercise and eat a healthy diet low in red meat and trans-fats, according to a study published on bmj.com today.

It is well known that diet, lack of physical activity, being overweight, alcohol consumption and smoking increase the risk of disease including cancer and diabetes, but little research has examined combinations of lifestyle factors in younger populations and women.

Dr Rob van Dam and his team from the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital, recruited nearly 80 000 women aged 34 to 59 years in 1980 who were part of the Nurses' Health Study in the US. They analysed the data of over 1.5 million person-years follow up over a 24 year period.

Participants completed detailed follow-up questionnaires every two years about their diet, frequency of physical activity, alcohol intake, weight, how much they smoked, and disease history. Deaths were confirmed by next of kin and the National Death Index.

Over the follow-up period the authors documented 8 882 deaths including 1 790 from heart disease and 4 527 from cancer.

The authors estimated that 28% of these deaths could have been avoided if women had never smoked and that 55% could have been avoided if women had combined never smoking, regular physical activity, a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight. Alcohol intake did not substantially change this estimate, although heavy alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of dying from cancer.

Smoking was found to be the biggest cause of premature death but all the other factors also contributed.

Interestingly, women with light-to-moderate alcohol consumption (up to 1 drink a day) were less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than alcohol abstainers.

The authors believe the results of this research indicate that more needs to be done to eradicate smoking and to encourage individuals to take regular exercise and eat healthily.

They conclude that "even modest differences in lifestyle can have a substantial impact on reducing mortality rates".

Source: British Medical Journal

Explore further: Study calculates contribution of risk factors to cancer in the US

Related Stories

Study calculates contribution of risk factors to cancer in the US

November 21, 2017
A new American Cancer Society study calculates the contribution of several modifiable risk factors to cancer occurrence, expanding and clarifying the role of known risk factors, from smoking to low consumption of fruits and ...

Treating gum disease may help lower blood pressure

November 15, 2017
Treatment for gum disease, or periodontitis, significantly lowered blood pressure among Chinese patients at risk for developing high blood pressure, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's ...

Impact of a genetic risk factor for substance use differs by sex in adolescents

November 15, 2017
In a study of adolescent boys and girls, neuroscientists at Penn State and Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) have found a sex difference in a gene linked to substance use disorders.

It's not just mums who need to avoid alcohol when trying for a baby

November 7, 2017
Abstaining from alcohol during preconception and pregnancy is usually considered to be the woman's responsibility. The main concern surrounding alcohol exposure during pregnancy often relates to well-established evidence ...

Simple blood test identifies critically ill patients who misuse alcohol, study finds

November 9, 2017
A simple blood test for a compound called PEth can accurately identify critically ill hospital patients who misuse alcohol, a study has found.

Is drinking wine really good for your heart?

October 27, 2017
As the weekend approaches, people are opening wine bottles in bars and restaurants and homes around the world, ready to kick back and relax.

Recommended for you

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

Exercising and eating well are greater contributors to health than standing at work

November 21, 2017
By now you've probably heard the edict from the health community: Sitting is the new smoking. Perhaps you've converted to a standing desk, or maybe you have a reminder on your phone to get up once an hour and walk around ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.