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Heart Healthy Diet

5 Healthy Habits That Can Help You Live A Decade Longer: Study Suggests

In a massive study conducted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, researchers and health experts alike studied the impact of healthy lifestyle habits and life expectancy. The individuals involved in conducting the study had access to medical data that provided a huge pool of subjects with decades worth of medical records to go through. When all was said and done researchers were able to draw conclusions using data from over 120,000 participants; 34 years worth of records from 78,000+ women, and 28 years worth of records from 40,000+ men. 

The researchers specifically focused on five areas of life/health: diet, physical activity/exercise, body weight, smoking, and alcohol intake. The data regarding these five categories was collected through a series of regularly administered questionnaires that would be validated through a multitude of actual medical records; all participants completely consented to the study. These five particular categories were chosen because, based on the death rates in America, these five areas pose the largest risk of premature death when attributed with unhealthy habits. 

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Obviously, researchers also had to take every individuals specific genetic make up into consideration as well, so they took data on age, ethnicity, medication use, and other health conditions as well. Within the study this is how researchers defined “healthy habits” within each of the five categories. 

  1. Healthy diet, calculated based on the reported intake of healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, healthy fats, and omega-3 fatty acids, and unhealthy foods like red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium.
  2. Healthy physical activity level, which was measured as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity daily.
  3. Healthy body weight, defined as a normal body mass index (BMI), which is between 18.5 and 24.9.
  4. Smoking, “Healthy” here means never having smoked.
  5. Moderate alcohol intake, measured as between 5 and 15 grams per day for women, and 5 to 30 grams per day for men. Generally, one drink contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol. That’s 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

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Once the study was concluded, researchers determined that healthy habits make a huge difference in terms of life expectancy, and not in the obvious sense. The analysis showed that women who met the criteria for all five healthy habits lived, on average, 14 years longer than those who didn’t; for men it was a 12 year difference. If an individual didn’t meet the criteria for any of these healthy habits, they were much more likely to die prematurely from either cancer or cardiovascular disease; the two top causes of death in the world in terms of disease. 

Beyond these results, the study also concluded that if any of the subjects adopted just one of the healthy habits listed above their life expectancy would likely be prolonged by two years, regardless of gender, especially if they were over the age of 50. 

The experts behind this study want the individuals who observe the results to take away a very specific message. In America, our health care focus is too concentrated on fancy and expensive medications to combat deadly disease as opposed to ways of preventing those diseases in the first place. This isn’t the first time in which experts have stated that the best, and easiest, way to inspire the masses to adopt healthier lifestyle habits is through “public health efforts and policy changes.” 

While we wait for those systematic changes to occur, however, it’s never too late to make even the slightest of changes to our lifestyles to give us the best shot at living a long and healthy life. Start slow, as the data stated even one habit adoption can add two years to your life, so what are you waiting for?

Woman Enjoying the Day

U.S. Life Expectancy Increases For The First Time In Years

The life expectancy of the average U.S. citizen has gone up for the first time since 2014. A major contributing factor to this is likely the fact that cancer death rates have declined the most they have in U.S. history within the past year. Additionally, drug overdose deaths, whether intentional or unintentional, have also seen a major decrease since 2018, some good news for a country that’s typically always devastated by physical and mental health statistics. 

The reports come from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and went on to emphasize how drug overdose deaths have decreased by 4% nationwide since 2018, a shocking statistic considering the increasing threat of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s caused countless accidental overdoses; including that of famous rapper Mac Miller who passed away in September 2018. 

However, the CDC credits the overall increase in life expectancy to the decrease in deaths caused by cancer or heart disease; the two leading causes of death in the world. The average American now has a life expectancy of 78.7 years, which is one tenth of a year more than what the CDC said in 2017. While one tenth of a year may not seem like that big of a deal, in terms of preventable and unpreventable causes of death it says a lot, especially to the professionals who are working with those who are sick with these diseases; it indicates to them that what they’re doing is working, even if it’s just a little.  

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“While modest, it’s really great news that the data shows progress. We have to be a little bit optimistic that some of our approaches to the problems worked, but let’s strike while the iron’s hot. I credit [the decline in overdose rates to] the overdose antidote, naloxone, which states and cities have made available so emergency workers and others can save the lives of people overdosing on opiods. But naloxone is a last resort that doesn’t get at the root causes of why people turn to drugs or suicide,” said psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer at the non profit Well Being Trust.

Miller is referring to the stigma surrounding mental health and its relation to addiction. The fact is, substance abuse and addiction isn’t seen by general society as a real illness because it has to do with will-power and your brain, not multiplying cancer cells that you have no control over in your organs. However, mental illness is just as severe as physical illness, and the statistics can back up that both are just as uncontrollable and deadly. 

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Destigmatizing addiction and expanding accessible mental health resources won’t fix everything, but it’s definitely a start, and the new data from the CDC proves that it works too. Miller emphasized this point as well, stating that within the past few years medication-assisted treatment for those addicted to opioids has become more accessible. This is extremely important as addiction to opioids specifically has become one of the biggest health epidemics the U.S. has ever endured. 

Before this new data, for the past three years the U.S. has seen a relatively steady decline in life expectancy due to disease and accidental death rates. Drug overdoses are looped into this conversation because they account for over a third of all accidental deaths in the U.S.. Accidental deaths are within the top 10 leading causes of death as well, and that top 10 has remained stagnant as well for the past few years. 

Other top leading causes of death in the U.S. include pneumonia when coupled with the flu, heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries that lead to unexpected complications, lower respiratory disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and suicide. By further opening up these conversations regarding mental health and addiction, we can at least work on preventing some of those top 10 causes from increasing while we let medical and mental health professionals work on the rest.

Depressed Man

“Deaths of Despair” Reach Unprecedented Levels in US, Experts Say

Perhaps one of the most objective statistical indicators of the health of a society is the life expectancy of its citizens. In the United States, life expectancy has risen from 69.7 years in 1960 to 78.69 years in 2016, a gradual increase mirroring the success of medical advancements, public health campaigns, and general economic growth over the course of the modern era. However, American life expectancy has been on the decline in recent years, as a result of the epidemic of obesity as well as so-called “deaths of despair,” which include drug overdoses, alcohol abuse, and suicide. 

In a certain sense, this problem is unique to the United States, as other developed nations around the world have not seen a similar, concurrent decline in life expectancy. This worrying development persists despite the fact that the United States spends more on health care per capita than any other developed nation and that the quality of healthcare in the US, for those who are able to receive it, is comparable to that of most advanced countries. As such, experts believe that factors like “income inequality and mental distress” are the root cause of the increase in rates of death across the country, as the experience of despair leads people to make decisions that increase the chances of early death.

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When viewed as a public health issue, the specific factors that lead to early deaths among Americans become clear, as many Americans, even those who do not suffer from diseases of despair, can recognize the social factors that lead to the development of these illnesses either through their personal lived experiences or through the experiences of people they know. According to Anne Case, a contributing author of the book “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,”  “the pillars that once helped give life meaning—a good job, a stable home life, a voice in the community—have all eroded.” 

In Case’s account, the nationwide rise in despair has its roots in economic and political factors, as workers without college degrees have been left out of the increasingly-harsh labor market, men’s wages have remained stagnant for half a century, and companies have been eliminating decent-paying jobs with good benefits, instead outsourcing low-skill work to cheaper economies. Despite the changes in the distribution of wealth in the American economy, the government has failed to adjust to changes wrought by the rapid and accelerating pace of technological innovation and globalization, generating an atmosphere of despair among much of the American public, Case argues.

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While the highly-complex relationship between societal factors, despair, unhealthy behaviors, and early death requires more study, experts view the rise of drug abuse, particularly opioid abuse, as symptomatic of larger social pressures that reduce in people a sense of their meaning in life, instilling in them an attitude of nihilism and apathy that drives them to make unhealthy choices in pursuit of relief from their suffering. According to one study, rates of overdoses and suicides have been on the rise since the 1990s, suggesting that the problem is not just related to the current political environment, but also to longstanding social trends as well as substantial increases in the availability of illicit drugs. 

That being said, there are signs of hope that society is beginning to tackle the public health crisis of despair, as the stigma surrounding mental illness has diminished in recent years and an increasing number of businesses are prioritizing the health of their employees, including when it comes to problems like drug addiction and mental illness. If you’re experiencing despair, keep in mind that there exist resources to help with mental health problems, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), which is available 24 hours a day.

Happy Woman

Life Expectancy in America Declining According to Latest Study

A study published in the journal JAMA has highlighted some reasons behind the latest news that life expectancy in the United States has started decreasing, despite having been on the increase for several years.

The study discovered that Americans between the ages of 25 and 64, or “working age,” are dying younger due to a combination of suicide, hypertension, and drug abuse as well as over 30 more different causes.

It has also been discovered that other wealthy countries around the world have a longer life expectancy to those in the US, which appears to be declining at a dramatic rate. And with working age adults seeing the biggest increase in deaths Steven H. Woolf of Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine believes it is a “distinctly American phenomenon.”

Woolf, who is co-author of the study alongside Heidi Schoomaker, explained that “death rates among working age adults are on the rise. We have known for years that the health of Americans is inferior to that of other wealthy nations, but our research shows that the decline in US health relative to other countries began as early as the 1980s.”

Both Woolf and Schoomaker looked at over 50 years worth of US life expectancy data with the results appearing to show that although life expectancy began to rise annually between 1959 and 2014, these figures stabilized around 2011 before declining again.

And America’s relationship with opioid abuse seems to be one of the main reasons, along with suicide and alcohol abuse, especially among young and middle aged adults. The figures increased amongst those who did not finish high school.

Strangely, the decline in life expectancy was higher in areas including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont – all in New England, while those living in the “Ohio Valley” – Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana – were also affected.

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The rise of the opioid epidemic appears to be one of the main reasons in these areas, especially since the collapse of the manufacturing industries that were a strong source of income in the regions. In fact, since 2010 over one third of “excess deaths” were reported from the Ohio Valley states since.

However those living along the Pacific coast – Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – saw their life expectancy increase during 2010 and 2017.

The authors of the report claims that data from previous years shows that Americans began to slip behind those in other countries as far back as the early 1980s.

“Historically this [period] was the beginning of the opioid epidemic, the shrinking of the middle class and the widening of income inequality,” Woolf said.

And although there were economic shifts around the world as a whole during this time, Woolf believes the lack of support experienced by struggling families contributed to the drop in America stating that “in other countries, families that fall on hard times have programs and services available to cushion the blow. In America, people often have to fend for themselves.”

With few social services to help families it may help us to understand why there was a larger increase in death among females as they “have even fewer support systems, and more childcare responsibilities.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Howard Koh commented on the study, saying that although the “most exhaustive and detailed analysis of this topic to date” has helped us find the main causes of death the citizens of America should start “embracing the leading causes of life.”

For instance, by looking at how social connections alongside strong communities are affecting our wellbeing.

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“Other countries spend relatively more in terms of social services. Health is much more than what happens in a doctor’s office. It starts where people live, learn, labor and pray.”

So what can we do to improve our life expectancy? Harvard Medical School has a few suggestions and while most of them are both obvious and easier to do, some may have you asking why!

For instance, we all know that smoking, excessive drinking and drug abuse will seriously damage our health but did you know that people who have quit smoking could repair some of the damage caused by cigarettes, cigars and even marijuana?

Once you stop smoking your risk of heart disease starts to reduce after only a few months, matching that of a non-smoker after around 5 years. Likewise with strokes. Giving up tobacco can see a reduction in the risk of having a stroke within two to four years while the mortality rate from colorectal cancer also reduces each year.

And while these statistics apply to most people, quitting smoking before you reach 50 will make the health benefits stronger, sooner.

There have also been discussions on the dangers of vaping, with many calling for the fruit flavored options to be banned.

A healthy diet, keeping fit and building a good network around you are also key to keeping you healthy and strong and therefore living longer.

By doing these things we can hopefully turn the trend on the average American’s life span before we are in “a future in which declining life expectancy may be the new norm.”