What constitutes a healthy lifestyle? Perhaps even more importantly, is your lifestyle healthy? Also, how are healthy lifestyle factors associated with health markers such as cholesterol level, blood sugar, and blood pressure?
In a study of 4,745 US adults recently published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers assessed for the presence or absence of four “healthy lifestyle” factors, as defined below.
1) Smoking status
A blood test was used to test for cotinine, a by-product of nicotine, to determine if participants were smokers or non-smokers.
2) Physical activity
An acceptable amount of physical activity was defined as at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of “moderate to vigorous physical activity” per week. Physical activity was measured with an accelerometer, a movement monitor attached to the person’s body that has the ability to capture intensity of physical activity.
3) Healthy diet
Participants were asked to recall their food and fluid intake for two 24-hour periods. This information was translated into a Healthy Eating Index (HEI) score, developed by the US Department of Agriculture as a measure of dietary quality. Those whose HEI scores were in the top 40% of the population were classified as adhering to the dietary guidelines for a healthy diet.
4) Body fat percentage
Using a special X-ray bone densitometer scan, body fat percentage was calculated. Normal body fat percentages for men were between 5% and 20% and between 8% and 30% for women.
How common are each of these healthy lifestyle factors?
Here are the results for each of the four healthy lifestyle factors:
- 71.5% did not smoke.
- 46.5% of the adults had adequate levels of physical activity.
- 37.9% had a healthy diet.
- 9.6% had a normal body fat percentage.
In looking at the factors in combination:
- 11.1% of the sample of adults had none of the four healthy lifestyle factors.
- 33.5% had one of the four factors.
- 36.8% had two of the four factors.
- 16% had three of the four factors.
- Only 2.7% of the adults had all four of the healthy lifestyle characteristics.
Some other interesting findings:
- Women were more likely than men to eat a healthy diet and to not smoke.
- Men were more likely to be sufficiently physically active than women.
- Older adults (60 and over) were more likely than younger adults to be non-smokers and to eat a healthy diet.
- The older adults were less likely than younger adults to have a normal body fat percentage and to be sufficiently active.
- Mexican-American adults were more likely to have a healthy diet than those from other ethnic backgrounds and black adults had the fewest number of healthy lifestyle characteristics.
How do these 4 healthy lifestyle factors relate to other health issues?
The second goal of the research study was to examine the relationship between these four healthy lifestyle behaviors and several risk factors for heart disease and other chronic health conditions, including cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels.
Overall, those with more of the four healthy lifestyle factors had more favorable levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.
This is in line with findings from several previous studies. In fact, the results from some of the similar studies have suggested a “dose-response relationship,” meaning that if you have more of the four healthy lifestyle factors, you are more likely to have favorable levels of cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.
Similarly, if you have more unhealthy lifestyle characteristics (smoking, higher body fat, decreased physical activity, and a less healthy diet), you are at increasingly higher risk for death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes of death.
What practical information can we take away from this very interesting research? It’s sobering to see that only 2.7% of the adults studied had all four of the healthy lifestyle behaviors. Put another way, 97.3% of the adults in this study did not show all four of the healthy lifestyle factors. What does this say about our emphasis on basic lifestyle choices and behaviors that can contribute greatly to our overall health?
Also, what needs to happen to increase the overall percentage of adults who achieve these basic healthy lifestyle standards? Ongoing education and prevention, starting with our children and teens, can go a long way to raise awareness and may instill healthy habits at a younger age. Additional emphasis on health and wellness in school, work, and community settings can also be very beneficial.
Remember the payoff for working toward a healthier lifestyle. Not only will you feel better, but you’re more likely to keep other health problems at bay and to live a longer and healthier life.
Here’s a question: What changes can you begin to put into place to increase your likelihood of achieving these four important healthy lifestyle standards? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!