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Health Capsules: May 23

Five healthy habits identified as keys to a significantly longer life

People who practice five lifestyle habits during adulthood can live well over a decade longer than those who do not, according to a new Harvard University study. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, keeping body weight within healthy limits, drinking in moderation, and not smoking are the five life-extending factors identified in the study, the first comprehensive analysis of its kind conducted in the U.S.

Americans’ average life expectancy of 79.3 years is shorter than that of almost all other industrialized countries, ranking 31st in the world in 2015. To examine how lifestyle factors can directly impact longevity, the Harvard researchers looked at about three decades of data from about 79,000 women and more than 44,000 men who participated in two large, longitudinal studies.  

At age 50, the women who had the healthiest lifestyles – meaning they followed all five low-risk factors – could expect to live until age 93, 14 years longer than women who adopted none of them. Among 50-year-old men, those who had the healthiest lifestyles could expect to live until age 87, 12 years longer than their least-healthy counterparts.

Overall, compared with those who didn’t follow any of the healthy lifestyle habits, men and women who followed all five were 74 percent less likely to die from any cause during the study period. In particular, they were 65 percent less likely to die of cancer and 82 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease. 

Although the researchers also found that following at least some of the five healthy habits reduced their risk of earlier death to a lesser extent, the combination of all five was associated with the most additional years of life. However, only 8 percent of American adults were achieving that goal as of 2006, the study authors noted. Being overweight or obese was the primary obstacle to meeting the five healthy lifestyle objectives, they said. The study was recently published online in Circulation.

When it comes to finances, couples often grow apart

The longer couples are together, the farther apart they may become in terms of financial knowledge and skills.

In many relationships, one partner – traditionally the man – has at some point taken over the lead role in managing household finances.  This has resulted in a large number of adults, many of them women, who have almost no knowledge about basic money management, such as how long it will take to pay off a debt, the effects of compound interest and inflation, or how to calculate for savings based on future needs. 

A team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Colorado-Boulder recently explored the reasons behind this. They conducted a study of about 200 married people who reported sharing financial resources with their partners. They studied participants’ responses to test-type questions measuring their financial skills, and analyzed them based on whether or not they reported having responsibility for 62 separate financial “behaviors.” They also looked at how the participants’ financial know-how developed – or failed to develop – based on the length of their relationships.

The researchers found that, as couples mature together, they often grow far apart in their level of interest and skill in handling money. Their research showed that although couples usually begin their relationships with fairly equal knowledge about finances, once they assign the role of “household CFO” to one partner, those knowledge paths diverge. The partner responsible for money-related decisions grows in financial knowledge over time, while the other partner’s financial ability and interest stagnates. The longer couples stay together, and the more responsibilities the household CFO takes over, the wider that knowledge divide becomes.

“We interpret our findings to say that the assignment of financial responsibility causes the two members of the couple to go on different trajectories for a lifetime,” said lead researcher Adrian F. Ward of UT Austin’s McCombs School of Business. Although such specialization between partners is natural and in many cases practical, the researchers said, it causes problems for those who have turned the financial management role completely over to their partners. 

When researchers asked them to make financial decisions or even read new financial information independently, the “non-CFO” partners in the study often could not. And after a divorce, or when the financially knowledgeable partner dies, those in similar situations are suddenly forced into the financial driver’s seat, unprepared to assume financial control over their lives, Ward said. Because current statistics show that between 80 and 90 percent of married women will at some point be solely responsible for their own finances for one of those two reasons, their relative lack of financial literacy has major negative consequences. The study was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

On the calendar

BJC offers free Know Your Numbers health screenings from 7:30-9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 30 at Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Parkway in O’Fallon. This health screening for adults will include lung function check, blood pressure check, cholesterol lipid panel and glucose measurements, body composition analysis and body mass index [BMI]. Participants should fast for at least 10 hours prior to screening. Advance registration is required online at bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events.

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A free Beat the Pack! Smoking Cessation program is offered from 5:30-7 p.m. on Thursdays beginning June 7 and continuing through June 28 at Barnes-Jewish St. Peters Hospital, 10 Hospital Drive in St. Peters [Medical Office Building 1, Suite 117]. Sessions will offer information and resources to help smokers kick the habit for good. Registration is required by visiting bjcstcharlescounty.org/Events.

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An American Red Cross community blood drive is from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, June 9 at Culvers St. Charles, 2750 Muegge Road. Register for an appointment time online at www.redcrossblood.org or by phone at (800) 733-2767.

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BJC hosts A Day of Play from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Saturday, June 16 at the Barnes-Jewish Progress West Hospital, 2 Progress Point Pkwy. in O’Fallon. This family-focused event will feature activities, information and fun for all ages, including a bounce house, art station, rescue trucks and free health screenings. Admission is free. 

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