Living Longer – 4 Lifestyle Factors Cut Death Risk 80%

Want to give one big boost to your health and longevity? Follow these 4 lifestyle measures, says an important new study of more than 6,200 Americans from Johns Hopkins, UCLA, and other universities.

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In a large newly published study* of more than 6,200 Americans, researchers from Johns Hopkins and other universities found that four lifestyle behaviors were associated with:
  • Lower incidence of calcium deposits in coronary arteries (Calcium buildup increases heart attack risk.)

  • Slower growth of calcium deposits

  • Lower rates of cardiovascular events like heart attacks and angina (chest pain)

  • Reduced risk of death from all causes by 80%

The four lifestyle factors for living longer and better were:

Not smoking


Keeping a normal weight

3. Exercising regularly – 150 minutes or more of moderately intense physical activity per week, or 75 minutes or more of vigorous activity per week.
4. Eating a healthy diet – high in vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and fish, and low in meat, full-fat dairy, poultry, and other saturated-fat-rich foods. This is a diet similar to the Pritikin Eating Plan.

Multi-Ethnic Population

Over the course of nearly eight years, the scientists followed 6,229 U.S. men and women who ranged in age from 44 to 84 and were from multi-ethnic backgrounds: white, African-American, Hispanic, and Asian.

Living Longer

Those who followed all four healthy behaviors had an 80% lower death rate over the eight-year period compared to those with none of the healthy behaviors.

At the beginning of the study, no participant had a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease.

Upon enrollment, they all received CT scans to measure any early signs of calcium deposits in their coronary arteries, a known contributor to heart disease. They received a second CT scan about three years later to assess calcium progression.

Throughout the study, the scientists also kept track of major health events in the participants’ lives, including heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrests, chest pain, or angioplasties, as well as deaths due to coronary heart disease or other causes.

Their conclusions: “A combination of regular exercise, healthy diet, smoking avoidance, and weight maintenance was associated with lower coronary calcium incidence, slower calcium progression, and lower all-cause mortality over 7.6 years.”

The researchers developed a lifestyle score for each participant, ranging from 0 (least healthy) to 4 (healthiest), based on their diet, body mass index (BMI), amount of physical activity, and smoking status.


“Of all the lifestyle factors, we found that smoking avoidance played the largest role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality,” stated Roger Blumenthal, MD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and senior author of the study.

“In fact, smokers who adopted two or more of the healthy behaviors still had lower survival rates after 7.6 years than did nonsmokers who were sedentary and obese.”

That would have been no surprise to Nathan Pritikin. Those attending his lectures at the Pritikin Longevity Center more than 30 years ago (this writer included), remember well the moment in his heart disease class when he paused, slowly scanning his audience, and in a voice quiet yet firm, began discussing the dangers of smoking, saying, “Everything I’ve told you about eating well and exercising means nothing – nothing at all – if you’re continuing to smoke. To save your heart and life, you’ve got to quit.”

Our lifestyles, our lives

All in all, this new study from Johns Hopkins, UCLA, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and other major research universities underscores, yet again, how profoundly important our lifestyles are to our lives. When we live well, we live longer.

“While there are risk factors that people can’t control, such as their family history and age, these four lifestyle measures are things that people can change and consequently make a big difference in their health. That’s why we think this is so important,” concluded Haitham Ahmed, MD, MPH, lead author and internal medicine resident with the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins.

* American Journal of Epidemiology, 2013; doi: 10.1093/aje/kws453. First published online: June 2, 2013.

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