Page last updated at 23:21 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 00:21 UK

Health moves 'halve early deaths'

woman smoking
Smoking accounted for nearly a third of the deaths

Women could halve their risk of premature death by adopting a healthier lifestyle, research suggests.

By avoiding cigarettes, exercising regularly, eating healthily and keeping weight in check, 55% of early deaths from chronic diseases could be avoided.

Following all four lifestyle tips could cut 44% of cancer deaths and 72% of cardiovascular deaths, the study of nearly 80,000 nurses suggests.

The work is published on the British Medical Journal website.

In the 24-year study, 28% of the 8,882 deaths could be attributed to smoking and 55% to the combination of smoking, being overweight, not doing enough exercise and a poor diet.

It's simple dietary changes like eating more whole-grains and less red meat, walking to work and to the grocery shop, these really add up
Report author Dr Rob van Dam

Drinking too much alcohol also contributed, but women with "light-to-moderate" alcohol consumption of up to one drink a day were less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than teetotallers.

Report author Dr Rob van Dam, from the Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, said the study's positive findings on moderate consumption of alcohol should not encourage people to "go overboard".

"It seems to be that drinking a little alcohol can lower the risk of heart disease, but you have to look at the overall picture too. We also saw in our study that people who drink a lot of alcohol have a higher risk of dying from cancer."

He said it could be easy for people to adopt the basic lifestyle recommendations.

Simple advice

"In busy, modern life it's more difficult to adapt to these factors, but people don't have to spend hours lifting heavy weights.

"It's simple dietary changes like eating more whole-grains and less red meat, walking to work and to the grocery shop, these really add up. And of course the thing to state is not to smoke."

According to Dr van Dam, the recommendations in his study could apply to men as well as women.

It is worth making lifestyle changes now, so that our later years are spent free from diseases
British Nutrition Foundation spokeswoman

The 77,782 women aged 34 to 59 who took part in the study completed detailed follow-up questionnaires every two years about their diet, frequency of physical activity, alcohol intake, weight, how much they smoked, and disease history.

Over the follow-up period the authors documented 8,882 deaths including 1,790 from heart disease and 4,527 from cancer.

A spokeswoman from the British Nutrition Foundation said: "This study reaffirms the importance of prevention.

"It is worth making lifestyle changes now, so that our later years are spent free from diseases such as cancer and heart disease."

Risk reduction

Meanwhile, a study by the British Heart Foundation has found women at high risk of diabetes can reduce their body's insulin resistance - the most important biological risk factor for diabetes - by exercising.

After seven weeks of an exercise programme of three 30 minute exercise sessions in the first week, working up to five 60 minute sessions in weeks six and seven, insulin resistance had reduced by 22% in women whose family history put them at a high risk of type 2 diabetes.

Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the BHF, said: "I hope the findings will encourage people to get active for their health."




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