Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Drop one bad habit, gain years of life: study

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BUTT out the cigarette and grab those running shoes -- a Canadian study released Monday suggests eliminating one of five unhealthy habits could add almost eight years to your life.

The report -- conducted by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, Public Health Ontario, the University of Ottawa and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute -- found 60 per cent of deaths in Ontario can be linked to smoking, alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity or stress.

Researchers examined responses from Ontario health surveys then compiled the data to plug into "survival models" that analyzed approximately 80,000 virtual people who lived with combinations of these five deadly habits.

Of these virtual people, researchers watched to see who died during the "seven human years" that passed.

Dr. Doug Manuel, lead author and senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, says everyone has at least one health issue that needs to be addressed and this study helps people decipher what they need to eliminate from their lives to live longer.

"If we all make one change like smoking less or being more physically active, then collectively we would be a lot healthier and live much longer," said Manuel. "We believe this data could work for all Canadians. We believe it could even be helpful for people in other countries. But for now, in Ontario, we feel pretty good about the science."

Using the results of the report, the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences has created an online "life expectancy calculator," to involve individual people in the science behind the study. Following a questionnaire, participants are given their 'expected age of death' and the No. 1 habit that would affect this number.

Dr. Vivek Goel, president and chief executive officer of Public Health Ontario, said the calculator is a good guide for comparing your health to others.

"It is all mathematical probability," said Goel. "Your results compare you to others in the province with the same answers, sex and age as you."

Dr. Scott Kush, a medical researcher for the Life Expectancy Group, warns life-expectancy surveys on the Internet could be very dangerous because key data are generally left out.

"Misinformation is worse than no information," said Kush. "When you take these surveys, you have to think, 'Will it miss the person with the brain disease?' or, 'Will it see the person who has cancer?' Unless you're going to take a thorough look at someone, are you going to come back with real results?"

But Mark Tremblay, director of healthy active living and obesity research at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa, says although these surveys cannot be lumped together, they may have motivating factors.

"When you apply risk factors, it could mean one thing to you and a different thing to me," said Tremblay. "If they motivate an individual, though, the harm is minimal."

 

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2012 C9

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