Being Lean and Following a Healthy Lifestyle Protects Against Early Death

Posted 02/06/2017 | By HealthCorps

A 2013 study that suggested that “a bit of extra weight (as in overweight),” was associated with reduced risk of death was received with skepticism by some experts.  A review of the evidence showed clear flaws.  A more recent study that included 10.6 million participants world-wide, actually showed that excess weight raises risk of early death.  So what can you do to improve longevity?

The new study in the British Medical Journal found that a lower BMI coupled with healthy lifestyle, plays a big role in promoting a longer life span.  The study identifies certain people with normal weight who still have very unhealthy lifestyle habits that can promote an increased risk of prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  Those unhealthy lifestyle habits include smoking, being sedentary, and following a diet filled with unhealthy foods.  In fact, the researchers suggest that healthy lifestyle habits alone may play a larger role than weight when it comes to longevity.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed more than 113,000 women and men who did not have cancer or heart disease at the start of the study.  They looked at BMI, quality of diet, physical activity levels, smoking habits and alcohol intake.  These individuals were followed for more than 32 years as part of the large Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study which looked at deaths measured from all causes, and especially from cancers and heart disease.

In the study, “low risk” lifestyle included never smoking, exercising more than 30 minutes daily (moderate to vigorous intensity),  moderate alcohol intake daily (one drink for women, two drinks for men), and a healthy diet based on an extensive questionnaire.  Standard BMI measurements were used for weight categories: 18.5-24.9 was normal; 25.0 – 29.9 was classified as overweight, and over 30 was considered obese.

Findings from the study revealed that as the number of low-risk lifestyle factors increased, risk of death decreased.  Subjects with three low-risk lifestyle habits and a normal BMI had the lowest rates of death from heart disease and cancer, and lowest overall risk of mortality.  Among overweight and obese subjects, the more low-risk lifestyle habits present, the lower the risk of early death.  Interestingly, those with “below normal BMI levels” who had followed zero low-risk lifestyle habits, had slightly higher risk of earlier death (these may have been smokers who control weight with a cigarette habit).

The results of this new study should encourage people to lose excess weight and follow a healthy lifestyle in order to optimize their lifespan.  And you’re never too young to start!!

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