It’s no secret that a healthy diet, exercising, limiting alcohol and not smoking can lower your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer. Research also suggests those may also be good for brain health. But how much of a difference does it really make?
Researchers set out to answer that by measuring the effect healthy behaviors had, both individually and combined, on healthy aging. The study was published online in the Canadian Medical Association Journal and included 5,100 British men and women at least 60 years old at the end of the study who had been followed for an average of 16 years. All participants were disease free at the beginning of the study.
They found that participants who did just one of the healthy behaviors increased their odds of healthy aging by 33%. But the odds of healthy aging for those who did all four behaviors were 3.3 times greater than those who did none.
The authors used the term successful aging – defined as having:
- no history of cancer, coronary artery disease, stroke or diabetes
- good cognitive, physical, respiratory and cardiovascular functioning
- no disability
- good mental health
The 4 behaviors were:
- never smoking
- moderate alcohol consumption (1-10 drinks/wk for women; 1-15 drinks/wk for men)
- being physically active (at least 2½ hr/wk moderate or at least 1 hr/wk vigorous)
- eating fruits and vegetables every day
As this study shows, each healthy behavior by itself leads to healthier aging – physically, mentally and cognitively. If you’re wanting to eat more healthfully, but feeling overwhelmed about the “rules”, keep in mind that these healthy, aging people simply reported eating fruits and vegetables every day – the researchers didn’t require a certain number of servings.
Modest changes like starting with one vegetable a day can make a difference – and make it easier to make more changes when you’re ready. So whatever it is you’ve been thinking of doing to be healthier, set a simple and achievable goal. One important additional step is to set up a way to be accountable – whether you keep track of your goal on a calendar, use an app or ask a friend to help out – tracking your progress helps success.
Learn more about making simple changes here.
Like apps? Check out AICR’s favorite health apps here.