Lifestyle factors that could shorten your life

24th Dec 2015
Lifestyle factors that could shorten your life

Sitting in a chair for long periods each day can have a negative impact on our health (Photo: Creative Commons)

A recent study has reported on the lifestyle factors that can have a negative impact on our health, whilst the obvious ones such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol were shown to affect health, other everyday activities were also shown to have a significant impact.

These included sitting in a chair for long periods each day and sleeping too long at night. More significantly it was found that having a combination of risk factors further increased the health risks more than the sum of individual risks factors. The authors hope that by highlighting the potential dangers of such activities we can all make life style changes and improve our long term health.

Every year more people die from non-communicable illnesses, illnesses that are not infectious, such as cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes, than from infectious diseases.

The risk factors for these illnesses are mostly due to lifestyle, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and poor diet. Whilst we are all aware of the health risks associated with smoking and drinking and diet, the study reported that other lifestyle factors, especially if they occur in combination, can have a significant impact on our overall health and premature death

The study, conducted in Australia over a 6 year period, looked at a variety of lifestyle factors in a more than 230,000 people aged 45 and over. They studied a list of risk factors that could affect health, including: Smoking, alcohol use, dietary behaviour, physical activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep.

The results found that smoking was the biggest single risk factor for poor health but that in many cases certain risk factors tended to coexist and the sum of their effects on health was higher that the effect of each risk factor alone, suggesting a synergistic effect. Among those combinations was long periods of inactivity, such as prolonged sitting for more than seven hours during a 24 hour period, and/or long sleep duration over 9 hours or sleeping for less than 7 hours a night and combinations involving smoking and high alcohol intake.

By looking at the variety and combinations of risk factors that contribute to ill health, the study authors hope it will be possible to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases by encouraging people to adopt healthier lifestyles. The combined effect of multiple risk factors needs to be more fully understood, in order to develop health programmes to reduce the incidence of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

In particular, the most commonly occurring combinations of health risk behaviours need to be studied. Scientists have now called for those activities to be incorporated in a list of behaviours known to increase the risk of premature death.

In conclusion, the authors stated that adherence to healthy lifestyle behaviours could reduce the risk of death from all causes. Specific combinations of lifestyle behaviours may be more harmful than others, suggesting synergistic relationships among risk factors.

Sleeping patterns, such as too little (less than 7 hours) or too much (more than 9 hours), over prolonged periods of inactivity were additional risk factors there were identified and may be added to behavioural risk combinations that can affect long term health and morbidity.

The University of Sydney researchers also said that unhealthy habits were behind a third of early deaths, adding: “This large study reaffirms the importance of healthy lifestyles.”

Rachel Kayani

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