Common Sense to Longer Living
In an eight-year study of 6,200 men and women across the United States, a team of eight researchers, including the lead authors, from Johns Hopkins—found that those who adopted four common-sense lifestyle behaviors protected themselves against coronary heart disease and the early buildup of calcium deposits in heart arteries.
The jaw-dropping finding of this study is this: People who engaged in these healthy behaviors reduced the chance of death from all causes by an astounding 80 percent. “Even knowing how important a healthy lifestyle is, we were surprised at how large a risk reduction there was for mortality,” says Haitham Ahmed, M.D., M.P.H., a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins and the lead author of the study, which was published in June in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Lifestyle change No. 1: Don’t smoke
This is an obvious lifestyle recommendation, however tobacco use is one of the most difficult addictions to quit. In fact, it may be harder to quit smoking than to stop using cocaine or opiates like heroin. In 2012, researchers reviewed 28 different studies of people who were trying to quit using the substance they were addicted to. They found that about 18% were able to quit drinking, and more than 40% were able to quit opiates or cocaine, but only 8% were able to quit smoking.
Lifestyle change No. 2: Maintain normal body weight
The healthiest people in the study maintained a body mass index (BMI)—a ratio of height to weight that measures body fat—of less than 25 (Any number between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy.)
“Healthy weight is generally a reflection of the cumulative effort in adherence to diet and exercise,” Blaha says. “It’s important because it integrates these effects over time, and we know that these healthy lifestyle traits exert their effect over a lifetime.” So while it’s laudable to hit your target weight or BMI in any given week, the real goal is to maintain that weight over the years.
Lifestyle change No. 3: Get up and move
You don’t need to run a marathon—or even around the block—to meet the minimum requirements for healthy exercise. In fact, many public health experts prefer to call it “physical activity” as a way to remind people that while they do need to move briskly for a sustained time, they don’t need to push themselves to chest-heaving, gasping-for-air levels of intensity.
The standards that researchers used of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise per week. The recommendation breaks down to about 30 minutes a day most days of the week. And those 30 minutes can be accumulated: You could break it into three 10-minute bouts of activity per day—a 10-minute walk in the morning, another at lunch and a stroll after dinner, if that suits your schedule
Lifestyle change No. 4: Make healthy food choices
The study found that the healthiest people followed a Mediterranean-style diet. Mediterranean diet is a low-carb, healthy-fat, lean-protein diet. It is a common sense type diet for most people and can be modified to most personal preferences.