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Longevity Related Lifestyle Factors

Sleep, Exercise, and Smoking

The Alameda County study showed that our lifestyle habits regarding sleep, exercise, and smoking impact the risk of death. Results are presented in Figure 10: Mortality Risk Related to Sleep, Exercise, and Smoking.(15,16). Six to nine hours of sleep per night appears to be ideal for most people. It is actually possible to get too much sleep as well as too little. Those that slept significantly more or less than this experienced a 60 to 70 percent increased risk of dying within a nine year period. For men, too much or too little sleep carried a risk similar to not exercising regularly. Within the nine-year period, the non-exercisers had a 50 percent increased risk of dying compared to those who made a consistent effort to keep fit. Women with low physical activity fared even worse. They had over twice the risk of dying within that nine year period.

Exercise

It is never too late to begin an exercise program. A separate study found that regardless of how out of shape a person is, the risk of death from all causes could be reduced by merely becoming fit through a regular exercise program. The amount of benefit is tabulated in Figure 11: Exercise Reduces Death Rate.(17) Notice that the death rate of physically fit men is only one-third of the rate of those that are unfit. For those that were unfit and then became fit, the death rate is about half as much as for those who are unfit.

Dangers of Smoking

The Alameda County data revealed that if a man smoked, he had double the risk of dying within a nine year period compared to a man who did not smoke. If a woman smoked, she had a 60 percent increased risk of dying. Another study found that men who smoked throughout their entire adult life had an average life expectancy of only 65 years.18 This is 12 years shorter than the expected 77-year life span for a lifelong nonsmoker.(19)

Although length of life is important, quality of life is also critical to all of us. Smokers tend to have a poorer quality of life. For example, peptic ulcer disease is much more common among smokers. Awakening at 2:00 AM with burning abdominal pain certainly is not quality living. Even if a smoker does not get ulcers, other digestive problems may arise related to the smoking habit. For example, tobacco decreases the tone in the band of muscle between the esophagus (swallowing tube) and the stomach. This makes it easier for stomach acid to flow into the esophagus and cause heartburn, another common robber of life’s quality.

Cigarette smoking also affects other organ systems. It contributes to early skin wrinkling and osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Skin wrinkling is merely an undesirable condition, but osteoporosis can be life threatening. Hip fractures are among the leading causes of death in older Americans. (More complete information on osteoporosis is included in Chapter 7, “The Great Meat and Protein Myth.” The thinner one’s bones, the more likely they will fracture when subjected to even minor trauma. When osteoporosis is not threatening life, it is often decreasing its quality. The disease can lead to chronic pain as well as to physical deformity. 

These are just a few examples of the many dangers of smoking. More complete information on this subject is found in Chapter 16, entitled “Dying for a Cigarette? Kick the Habit and Live.”

Alcohol Use Shortens Life

There are many voices today advocating moderate alcohol consumption. This is not out of harmony with what the Alameda County study in the early 1970s revealed; namely, that moderate or no use of alcohol enhanced longevity. However, research in the 25 years following Belloc and Breslow’s landmark publication demonstrates that total avoidance of alcohol is the best option from the perspective of disease prevention. This issue is addressed at length in Chapter 17, “Want a Drink?

Social Relationships and Mortality

To the surprise of many skeptics, research also suggests that trusting God and attending church on a regular basis increase longevity. Having genuine friends, being a member of a group, and even being married have beneficial effects on longevity. Most people intuitively understand that these elements enhance the moral and social quality of life, but in addition they also positively affect physical health and longevity. When the Alameda County data was analyzed for these social and spiritual factors, the results were impressive. Particularly striking were the results for those who are 30 to 49 years old. These are depicted in Figure 12: Social Networks and Mortality.(20) A growing body of research testifies to the value of belief in God to one’s social and emotional health. One such report from Duke University found that individuals with strong religious faith reported higher levels of happiness and satisfaction in life. They also appeared to handle traumatic events better-with less mental and social difficulties.(21) Chapter 15, “AIDS and HIV—The Untold Story,” and Chapter 20, “Beyond the Leading Causes of Death,” provide additional information on how faith in God enhances health.

Note: all figures and footnote references (as denoted in parenthesis) are available in the text of Dr. Nedley's book Proof Positive.