NEW YORK (April 25) – A paltry number of Americans follow four basic rules of health living — don’t smoke, eat well, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight, according to new study findings released Monday. After surveying more than 150,000 adults, Michigan researchers found that only three percent said they maintained these healthy habits.

Lead author Dr. Mathew J. Reeves of Michigan State University in East
Lansing told Reuters Health he expected that a minority of adults would keep up all habits, “but three percent was really quite surprising.” He explained that there are probably a number of reasons why the vast majority of Americans don’t follow their doctors’ orders. People are busy, live in environments more conducive to driving everywhere than walking or biking, and may lack information about the dangers of unhealthy habits, Reeves suggested.

But likely the biggest reason is the “current cultural norm” to live unhealthy lives, he said. “If most people around you are overweight, and don’t exercise and eat mostly fast food, then it’s very hard to see the need to change the way you are living,” Reeves noted.

To investigate how healthy Americans are, Reeves and his co-author Dr. Ann
P. Rafferty reviewed data collected from 153,000 adults as part of a telephone survey.
The researchers noted how many people didn’t smoke, ate at least five fruits and vegetables every day, exercised for at least 30 minutes five or more times per week, and had a healthy body mass index (BMI), defined as weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25.
Among the surveyed adults, 76 percent didn’t smoke and 40 percent had maintained a healthy weight.

However, less than one quarter ate at least five fruits and vegetables daily, or exercised on a regular basis. Altogether, only three percent of surveyed adults maintained all four of these healthy habits, the authors report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Reeves said that research shows being healthy can add years to your life, slash medical expenses, cut your risk of heart disease, and generally improve your quality of life. “It really does matter that so many people are not taking the most basic steps to leading a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “We should be aware of what we are giving up.”

SOURCE: Archives of Internal Medicine, April 25, 2005.

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