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.



·       According to new guidelines published by the UK’s Department of Health, consumption of any level of alcohol increases the risk of a range of cancers

·       The guidelines, based on findings of research worldwide, aim to decrease the risk of mortality from cancers and other disorders

·       When the original guidelines were published in 1995, the links between alcohol and cancer were not fully understood

·       Now, new evidence shows that the risks start from any level of regular drinking, and the more one drinks, the higher the risk

·       According to the UK’s Royal Society for Public Health, alcohol contributes to over 60 medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and some cancers

·       About 1 in 20 of all new cancers in the UK stem from alcohol consumption

·       Drinking even a small amount of alcohol increases the risk of some cancers, compared with people who do not drink at all, according to the UK’s Committee on Carcinogenicity

·       The risk of developing some alcohol-related cancers reduces over time when people stop drinking, but it can take many years to return to the levels found in people who have never drank alcohol

·       Lower limits for men’s consumption

·       The benefits of alcohol for heart health only apply for women aged 55 and over

o   These women should limit their intake to around 5 units per week, or the equivalent of around 2 standard glasses of wine

·       Drinking alcohol can increase women’s risk of mouth, throat and breast cancer

·       The recommended upper limit of consumption for women remains at 14 units per week

·       However, where men were previously advised not to exceed 21 units a week, that limit has now dropped to 14 units, or around 6 pints of average-strength beer

·       In the UK, men account for 65% of alcohol-related deaths

·       People are also being advised not to "save up" the 14 units for 1-2 days, but to spread them over 3 or more days.

·       Having several alcohol-free days a week is suggested as a way to reduce intake.

·       Having one to two heavy drinking sessions each week increases the risk of death from long-term illnesses, as well as accidents and injuries.

·       Pregnant women should avoid alcohol

o   Pregnant women are now being told to avoid all alcohol; no level of alcohol is safe to drink in pregnancy.

o   The previous advice to limit intake to 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice per week has been removed to provide greater clarity as a precaution.

o   While small amounts of alcohol consumed before becoming aware of the pregnancy present a low risk to the baby, there is no "safe" level of alcohol for pregnant women to drink.

·       New advice on single episodes of drinking includes limiting the total amount of alcohol consumed on any one occasion and drinking slowly.

·       People are also advised to consume food while drinking and to drink water alternately with alcohol.

·       Since the short-term risks for individuals vary widely, guidance about a set number of units for a single occasion or day are not currently included in the guidelines.

·       Those who should be particularly careful include young adults, older people, those with low body weight or other health problems, and those using medicines or other drugs.


·       In the US, a standard drink contains 0.6 ounces of alcohol

·       This is equivalent to 12 ounces of beer at 5% alcohol content, 5 ounces of wine at 12% or 1.5 ounces of liquor at 40%

·       "Heaving drinking" is defined as eight drinks or more a week for women and fifteen or more for men.


·       Red wine, in moderation, has long been thought of as heart healthy.

·       Antioxidants in red wine may help prevent heart disease by increasing levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) and protecting against artery damage.

·       Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart.

o   A polyphenol called resveratrol is one substance in red wine

·       RESVERATROL: may be a key ingredient in red wine that helps prevent damage to blood vessels, reduces low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol) and prevents blood clots.

o   The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine.

o   Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol.

o   Simply eating grapes, or drinking grape juice, has been suggested as one way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol.

o   Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.

o   Most research on resveratrol has been done on animals

o   Research in mice given resveratrol suggests that the antioxidant might also help protect them from obesity and diabetes, both of which are strong risk factors for heart disease.

o   Research in pigs has shown that resveratrol may improve heart function and increase the body's ability to use insulin.

o   Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease.

o   One study showed that resveratrol may actually reduce the positive effect of exercise on the heart in older men.

o   It's also important to know that resveratrol's effects only last a short time after drinking red wine, so its effects may not last in the long term.


·       Various studies have shown that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol benefit your heart, not just alcohol found in red wine. It's thought that alcohol:

o   Raises high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the "good" cholesterol

o   Reduces the formation of blood clots

o   Helps prevent artery damage caused by high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" cholesterol

o   Produces changes in blood pressure


·       Red wine's potential heart-healthy benefits look promising.

·       Those who drink moderate amounts of alcohol, including red wine, seem to have a lower risk of heart disease.

·       However, more research is needed before we know whether red wine is better for your heart than are other forms of alcohol, such as beer or spirits.

·       Neither the American Heart Association nor the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend that you start drinking alcohol just to prevent heart disease.

·       Alcohol can be addictive and can cause or worsen other health problems.

·       Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, liver damage, obesity, certain types of cancer, accidents and other problems.

·       Drinking too much alcohol regularly can cause weakened heart muscle, leading to symptoms of heart failure in some people.

·       If you have heart failure or a weak heart, you should avoid alcohol completely.

·       If you take aspirin daily, you should avoid or limit alcohol, depending on your doctor's advice. You also shouldn't drink alcohol if you're pregnant.

·       If you have questions about the benefits and risks of alcohol, talk to your doctor about specific recommendations for you.

·       If you already drink red wine, do so in moderation.

·       For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.

·       The limit for men is higher because men generally weigh more and have more of an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol than women do.