The Five Basic Keys to Living Healthy

There are hundreds of articles published everyday, in everything from scholarly medical journals to teen websites, that aspire to tell you how to live a healthier life. But analyze them closely, break them down into their component bits, and the “secrets” they all feverishly purport to reveal come down to five very basic behaviors that have long been known to reduce the risk of chronic diseases:

  • Maintaining a healthy body weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Not smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol consumption or only drinking in moderation
  • Getting a sufficient amount of sleep

These chronic diseases – for example, stroke, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease - are perennially among the most common and costly health problems in the United States.

Now, here's the kicker: according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 6.3 percent of American adults adhered to all five healthy behaviors!

Dr. Yong Lu, of the Division of Population Health at the CDC, led the team who analyzed data from the 2013 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) - a system of telephone surveys that gathers health-related information from residents across all U.S. states. They published their results in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease: Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy. The data included almost 400,000 adults aged 21 and older, and the team looked at what proportion of these individuals adhered to five health behaviors known to reduce the risk of death from chronic disease.

How do you stand compared to your fellow Americans? Here's the breakdown:

  • 8.4 percent of the adults engaged in one of the health behaviors
  • 24.3 percent engaged in two
  • 35.4 percent engaged in three
  • 24.3 percent engaged in four

Of the only 6.3 percent of the adults who engaged in all five behaviors, women, older adults, college graduates, and Asians were the most likely to report doing so. And adults who lived in the Pacific and Rocky Mountain states were more likely to adhere to all five health behaviors.

On the cheerier side, only 1.4 percent of the adults failed to engage in any of the five health behaviors whatsoever.

Based on their results, Dr. Lu and his team believe there needs to be increased focus on strategies that encourage more Americans to engage in all five health behaviors, which may reduce their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.