Live Life Long and Live it Well

Live Life Long and Live it Well

5 New studies show how dropping a few pounds, eating healthier and moving more can add years to your life. None of them required extreme measures to reap the benefits, so read on and get inspired.

1. A Few Extra Pounds Can't Hurt You - Or Can They?

In contradiction to a recent study review that has been talked about a lot, a new study of 10.6 million people across four different continents conducted by the University of Southern California has found that being a few pounds overweight can, in fact, decrease your life span.

Although people accept that being obese and carrying more than just a few pounds extra can shorten a person's life span, scientists have debated whether the weight category between healthy weight and obese (the overweight category) is a health risk.

It's easy to work out if you are a healthy weight using just your weight and height - take a look at our healthy weight charts to see where you are.

"Physicians should identify being overweight as posing a risk to health," said Jonathan Samet, one of the study’s authors and Director of the University of Southern California’s Institute for Global Health.

"Increasing the risk of dying is a powerful indicator of health. The new results on overweight should be strong motivation for people to return to a healthy weight."

Being overweight is defined as having a body mass index between 25 and 30. For example, a 5-foot-4 person who weighs 140 pounds has a healthy BMI of 24. Add five pounds and this individual would be considered overweight.

The study, published in the Lancet, analysed participants who had never smoked, did not have chronic disease and were still alive five years after the research began.

Overweight and obesity were strongly connected to coronary heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease death, and were moderately linked to cancer mortality. The findings were reflected in Europe, North America and East Asia.

The new finding on overweight contradicts a 2013 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which reviewed results from other studies and found that being overweight actually adds to one's life span, and "grade 1 obesity" (BMI 30-35) did not have a negative effect on life span.

This new study did more than just summarise published results; the data from all 239 studies was analysed in a standard way.

The proportion of premature deaths that could be avoided with a healthy weight (between BMI 18.5 and 25) is

•    1 in 5 in North America

•    1 in 6 in Australia and New Zealand

•    1 in 7 in Europe

•    1 in 20 in East Asia

In short, like smoking, the health problems associated with underweight, overweight and obesity are substantial but potentially preventable.

2. Diet, Exercise, or Both: Study Finds All Work Equally to Protect Heart Health

St. Louis University asked the question ‘Which works better to improve the cardiovascular health of those who are overweight - dieting, exercise or a combination of both?’

Their study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that it doesn't matter which strategy you choose - it's the resulting weight loss that is the protective secret sauce.

"For men and women with excess body weight, modest weight loss provides powerful protection against cardiovascular disease, regardless of whether weight loss is achieved by using exercise, a healthy low-calorie diet, or both," said Edward Weiss, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University and the lead author of the article.

For the research, Weiss and his team divided 52 overweight, middle-aged men and women into three groups - those who dieted, exercised or did both - and charged them with losing about 7 percent of their body weight during a 12-14 week period.

Those who exclusively dieted or exercised were told to decrease their food intake by 20 percent or increase their activity levels by 20 percent. Those who did both were told to eat 10 percent less and move 10 percent more.

The researchers analysed how the changes affected indicators of cardiovascular health, such as blood pressure, heart rate and other markers for heart disease and stroke, like high "bad" cholesterol levels.

They found the three strategies were equally effective in improving cardiovascular health, and were expected to reduce a person's lifetime risk of developing cardiovascular disease 10 percent - from 46 percent to 36 percent.

While dieting and exercising was no better than dieting or exercising alone, as Weiss sees it, his research doesn't give people who have lost weight to improve their heart health license to eat high calorie junk food or have a sedentary lifestyle.

He advocates a combination of healthy eating and exercise as his preferred roadmap to heart health.

"Because our previous research and that of others indicates that exercise and diet each provide their own unique health benefits beyond those that were evaluated in the current study, it is important to recognise that both diet and exercise are important for health and longevity," Weiss said.

“Furthermore, an inactive lifestyle itself is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, although the physiologic mechanisms for this effect are unknown."

3. Unhealthy Habits Cost 6 Years of Life

Researchers have found that unhealthy habits such as smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity and alcohol consumption are costing Canadians an estimated six years of life and contribute to about 50% of deaths across Canada.

"Unhealthy behaviours place a major burden on Canadian life expectancies," said lead author Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and professor at The University of Ottawa.

"This study identified which behaviours pose the biggest threat."

The study found that many deaths could be attributed directly to unhealthy behaviours:

•    26% to smoking

•    24% to physical inactivity

•    12% to poor diet

•    0.4% to unhealthy alcohol consumption

For men, smoking was the top risk factor, representing a loss of 3.1 years. For women it was lack of physical activity, representing a loss of 3 years.

The researchers also found that Canadians who followed recommended healthy behaviours had a life expectancy 17.9 years greater than those with the unhealthiest behaviours.

4. Diet and Exercise Can Reduce Factors Linked to Alzheimer's

A study by researchers at the University of California’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has found that a healthy diet, regular physical activity and a healthy BMI can reduce the protein build-ups that are associated with the beginnings of Alzheimer's disease.

The study of 44 adults, ranging in age from 40 - 85 with mild memory changes but no dementia, found that several lifestyle factors were linked to lower levels in the brain of the of plaques associated with Alzheimer’s –

•    A healthy body mass index

•    Physical activity

•    A Mediterranean diet 

"The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us," said Dr. David Merrill, the lead author of the study, which appears in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Earlier studies have linked a healthy lifestyle to delays in the onset of Alzheimer's. However, this new study is the first to demonstrate how lifestyle factors directly influence markers of the onset of the disease.

"The study reinforces the importance of living a healthy life to prevent Alzheimer's, even before the development of clinically significant dementia," Merrill said.

5. Excess Weight Linked to 8 More Types of Cancer

There's yet another reason to maintain a healthy weight as we age. An international team of researchers from Washington University’s School of Medicine has identified eight additional types of cancer linked to excess weight and obesity: 

•    Stomach cancer

•    Liver cancer

•    Cancer of the gall bladder

•    Pancreatic cancer

•    Ovarian cancer

•    Meningioma (a type of brain tumor)

•    Thyroid cancer

•    Multiple Myeloma (a blood cancer)

Limiting weight gain over the decades could help to reduce the risk of these cancers, the data suggest.

The findings, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, are based on a review of more than 1,000 studies of excess weight and cancer risk analysed by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Cancer on Research.

"The burden of cancer due to being overweight or obese is more extensive than what has been assumed," said cancer prevention expert Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, at Washington University School of Medicine, who chaired the IARC Working Group.

"Many of the newly identified cancers linked to excess weight haven't been on people's radar screens as having a weight component."

In 2002, the same group of cancer researchers found sufficient evidence linking excess weight to higher risks of cancers of the colon, esophagus, kidney, breast and uterus.

"Lifestyle factors such as eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising, in addition to not smoking, can have a significant impact on reducing cancer risk," Colditz said. 

"But losing weight is hard for many people," he added.

"Rather than getting discouraged and giving up, those struggling to take off weight could instead focus on avoiding more weight gain."

The risks found were similar for men and women, and for most of the cancers on the newly expanded list, the researchers noted that the higher the body-mass index, or BMI, the greater the cancer risk.

There are many reasons why being overweight or obese can increase cancer risk, the researchers noted. Excess fat leads to an overproduction of estrogen, testosterone and insulin, and promotes inflammation, all of which can drive cancer growth.

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