A healthy diet can reverse the bad effects of smoking, stress

New research shows a healthy diet can help one live a longer, healthier life. (Rawpixel pic)

HELSINKI: New European research has revealed some of the lifestyle factors that could cut life expectancy, but also those which could help us live a longer, healthier life too.

Carried out by researchers at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare and the Age Institute, Helsinki, Finland, the new study looked at data gathered from 38,549 participants aged 25 to 74 years who were followed from 1987 to 2007, plus rate of mortality data collected up to 2014.

Using the data, the researchers then calculated how 27 established risk factors, such as smoking, diabetes, and heavy stress, could affect life expectancy.

The findings, published in the BMJ Open, showed that smoking and diabetes were two of the biggest causes of a shorter lifespan and affected both men and women.

For a 30-year-old man, smoking cut life expectancy by 6.6 years and diabetes by 6.5 years, and for a 30-year-old woman smoking cut the lifespan by 5.5 years and diabetes by 5.3 years.

“What was interesting about the study was how small the difference in the life expectancy of 30-year men and women was based on the same risk factor values – only 1.6 years.

According to the statistics from Statistics Finland, the difference between the sexes has been over five years for all 30-year-olds, which comes down to women having healthier lifestyles than men,” says Research Professor Seppo Koskinen.

Smoking could knock years off your life, according to new research. (Rawpixel pic)

The team also noted that although many people have switched from tobacco to e-cigarettes in recent years, which can reduce the exposure to carcinogens and toxins compared with smoking traditional cigarettes, they could still increase the risk of respiratory diseases compared with those who have never smoked at all.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, lack of exercise and a poor diet were also linked with a shorter life. Not exercising reduced the life expectancy of 30-year-old men by 2.4 years, but eating fruit could increase it by 1.4 years and eating vegetables by 0.9 years.

Factors related to quality of life were also a major factor in life expectancy, with experiencing heavy stress shortening life expectancy of men by 2.8 years and women by 2.3 years.

However, experiencing stress increased life expectancy if the person felt the amount of stress they were under was around the same as what other people typically experienced.

Feeling like you had to deal with more or less stress than others, however, was linked with reduced life expectancy.

“Before, life expectancy has usually been assessed based on only a few sociodemographic background factor groups, such as age, sex, and education.

“In this study, we wanted to assess the impact of several different factors to a person’s life expectancy, so we could compare their effects,” says Research Manager Tommi Härkänen.

The team added that the life expectancy of the whole population could be improved significantly through helping people make better lifestyle choices, particularly those with a lower level of education who are more likely to smoke, drink heavily, eat a poor diet and not exercise.

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