We all know that a healthy lifestyle, such as not smoking, keeping your weight down, eating right, regular exercise, and low moderate alcohol intake contributes to long-term health benefits. The recently completed Caerphilly Cohort Study expands the known benefits of a healthy lifestyle to include more evidence for improvements in cognitive function, and a reduced incidence of dementia.
The study began in 1979, and spanned a full 35 years. The health habits of 2,235 men between the ages of 45 and 59 were correlated to their incidences of diabetes, vascular disease, cancer, cognitive impairment, dementia and death (from all causes). The study tracked five healthy behaviors:
- Acceptable body weight (BMI of 18 to under 25 Kg/m2)
- Healthy diet (three or more helpings of fruit and/or vegetables per day, with less than 30% of calories from fat)
- Regular exercise (walking two or more miles each day to work, cycling ten or more miles each day to work, or a regular habit of vigorous exercise)
- Low alcohol intake (three or fewer units per day, abstinence was not tracked separately)
The results were analyzed according to how many of these behaviors were followed. The results of men who followed four or five behaviors were combined since only two reported following all five. The findings for men who consistently followed four or five of the healthy behaviors was described as “amazing” when compared to the men who followed none.
“The size of reduction in the instance of disease owing to these simple healthy steps has really amazed us and is of enormous importance in an aging population,” said Principle Investigator Professor Peter Elwood from Cardiff University’s School of Medicine. “What the research shows is that following a healthy lifestyle confers surprisingly large benefits to health – healthy behaviours have a far more beneficial effect than any medical treatment or preventative procedure.” Cardiff University News Centre
Compared to those who followed none of the healthy behaviors, the groups who followed four or five experienced:
- 50% reduction in vascular disease (delayed vascular disease events of up to 12 years, and six years additional lifespan).
- 50% reduction in diabetes.
- 60% reduction in all-cause mortality.
- 60% reduction in cognitive impairment.
- 60% reduction in dementia.
- The study found that the reduction of cancer was only influenced by non-smoking, and not by the other four behaviors.
It is interesting to note that the most significant factor in the 60% decline in cognitive function and dementia was found to be regular exercise.
“This more detailed analysis suggests any benefit of physical activity on cognition is likely to be mediated via vascular metabolic and emotional pathways rather than being independent of these factors.” Caerphilly Cohort Study
This study shows the extent to which a healthy lifestyle can contribute to preventing illness and preserving our health. The study was admittedly limited to only five behaviors, and did not take into account socioeconomic factors, education, or marital status. Nevertheless, it does show how the decisions we make affect our future health and longevity. If you found this information helpful and would like to know more about living a healthy lifestyle that includes one of the most important factors not even mentioned in the study – stress reduction, please give me a call. I’d love to help.