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Health in middle age affects life expectancy

Friday September 18th, 2009

Man smokingPoor health and habits such as smoking in middle age too often lead to early death for men, researchers warn today.

The research shows that smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in mid-life are linked to a ten year cut in life expectancy.

Death rates from heart disease and other causes have been falling in the UK since the early 1970s, leading to a big rise in life expectancy.

Researchers led by Dr Robert Clarke from Oxford University, UK, examined figures from the long-term "Whitehall" study of 18,863 male civil servants aged 40-69 years when first examined in 1967-70.

They looked at the men's life expectancy in relation to cardiovascular risk factors recorded at the start of the study. At this point, 42 per cent of the men were smokers, 39 per cent had high blood pressure, and 51 per cent had high cholesterol.

Compared with men without these risk factors, the presence of all three was linked to a ten year shorter life expectancy from age 50, say the researchers on the website of the British Medical Journal.

Next, they found that men in the lowest five per cent of overall risk (based on smoking, diabetes, employment grade, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index) had a 15 year shorter life expectancy than men in the highest five per cent.

The authors conclude: "Despite substantial changes in these risk factors over time, baseline differences in risk factors were associated with ten to 15 year shorter life expectancy from age 50."

Professor Peter Weissberg of British Heart Foundation commented: "The good news is that all of us can make changes to help us live a healthy life for longer, even after 50. I urge all men and women over 40 to have a health check."

Clarke, R. et al. Life expectancy in relation to cardiovascular risk factors: 38 year follow-up of 19 000 men in the Whitehall study. The British Medical Journal, 2009;339:b3513.

Tags: Drug and Alcohol Abuse | General Health | Heart Health | Menís Health | UK News

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