If people would just do four things -- engage in regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet, not smoke and avoid becoming obese -- they could slash their risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke or cancer by 80%, a new report has found.
But less than 10% of the 23,153 people in the multiyear study -- published in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine -- actually lived their lives this way. "The study has such a simple straightforward focus on making the point that prevention works in preventing serious disease," said Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.
"What really has been difficult is trying to figure out how to get people to take notice of the message and engage in healthy behaviors."
Healthy factors included never smoking; engaging in physical activity for at least 3 1/2 hours each week; eating a diet low in red meat and high in fruits and vegetables; and having a body mass index (BMI) lower than 30. (A person with a BMI of 30 or above is classed as obese.). Only about 9% of participants practiced all four healthy lifestyle choices, four percent practiced none and roughly 35% followed two of the healthy practices.
Researchers reviewed participants' medical records about eight years later, on average, looking for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes or cancer. People who followed all four healthy practices were at far lower risk compared with people who followed none: 93% lower risk for diabetes, 81% for a heart attack, 50% for a stroke and 36% for cancer.
The scientists also found that each healthy factor reduced chronic disease risk.