One of the things we stress in biological dentistry is prevention. After all, even the most beautiful dental restorations are no match for living, natural tooth structure. So we stress optimal nutrition, great home hygiene, and other aspects of a healthy lifestyle – things that support your overall health, as well, as a new JAMA Internal Medicine study reminds.
For the study, researchers analyzed an average 13 years of data from more than 100,000 adults participating in a dozen European studies. All participants were between the ages of 40 and 75 and started out with no major chronic health problems.
Each participant was given a “healthy lifestyle score” based on smoking history, body mass index (BMI), physical activity, and alcohol consumption. Up to 2 points were possible for each habit, for a top score of 8 points.
Each was also tracked for the development of eight chronic conditions: type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, COPD, heart failure, and dementia. (Note how most of these are also conditions that have been linked to advanced gum disease.)
Ultimately, the higher the healthy lifestyle score, the more years of healthy life.
The researchers found that, compared to those with a score of zero, having a score of eight translated to an additional 9.9 years of life without major chronic illness for men and 9.4 such years for women. Specifically, men with a score of zero lived to age 61.7 and women to age 61.6, but men with a score of eight lived to age 70.9 and women to age 70.7.
The researchers also created 16 “lifestyle profiles,” ranging from no adherence to any of the four healthy habits all the way up to total adherence to each. They found that the four profiles with the highest number of disease-free years included a B.M.I. of less than 25 and at least two of these three healthy behaviors: never smoking, sufficient physical activity and moderate alcohol consumption.
And that may be the most encouraging thing of all – the fact that even maintaining just some of the healthy habits appeared to make a difference. Just knowing you’ve got a little leeway can quell some of the anxiety you might feel if you fall short of the ideal you’re striving for.
That also presents an opportunity to take stock of your current health lifestyle and prioritize.
You can’t change your past, but if you currently have a tobacco habit, now’s the time to quit. And if your oral hygiene habit is less than stellar, now’s the time to recommit and up your game.
Exercise and nutrition – what and how much you eat, as well as how active you are – are probably the areas where you’ve got the most diverse choices. Depending on your age, abilities, and interests, find a physical activity that you’ll stick with and enjoy. Or think about what you enjoyed in the past – tennis, say, or biking or hiking – and give it another go.
The same goes for healthy eating. Check out your pantry, do a little online research, even put a call out to your Facebook friends for suggestions, and you’ll most likely have more choices than you know what to do with.
Overall, remember taking care of your health is one day at a time, not an all-or-nothing prospect. As lead author Solja T. Nyberg told the New York Times,
Nothing is guaranteed, but these results give some insight into the effects of several lifestyle choices.
And if those effects equal more life lived without chronic disease, that’s a worthy gamble.