A study on heart disease by the University of Cardiff, which has been running for 35 years, has discovered that lifestyle choices affect the length and quality of life. The research team discovered that maintaining an acceptable BMI, not smoking, drinking moderate amounts of alcohol, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and taking regular physical activity reduced the incidence of heart disease, stroke and dementia.
The initial aims of the study were to discover whether the risk of heart disease could be minimised by making lifestyle changes but it has evolved over the years to examine whether the risks of stroke and now the risks of developing dementia can also be affected by choosing to live a healthy lifestyle.
The study was begun in 1979 in the Caerphilly area of Wales. The area was chosen because it was seen as a black spot for heart disease at the time. 2,800 men aged 25-49 volunteered for the study and in 2004, 1,200 of the original volunteers had completed the fifth element of the study. The study has contributed much to the knowledge and understanding of heart disease which had greatly improved across the UK and Europe by 2004. The volunteers, their wives and families completed regular surveys detailing their lifestyle habits. Every five years, the volunteers were re-examined along with their medical records to check for new incidences of heart disease, stroke or mini-stroke, diabetes and dementia.
The study leader is Professor Peter Elwood, who was awarded an OBE in 2012 for his outstanding contribution to health. At the start of the study, recommendations had been made regarding eating healthily including plenty of fruit and vegetables, regular physical activity which should consist of walking two or more miles every day to work, cycling 10 or more miles each day or similar vigorous exercise and moderate alcohol consumption. In 2015 just 25 pensioners are left in the study, but they are fit pensioners who are still able to walk their two miles a day and complete long cycle rides.
Complete protection against the development of chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes could not be guaranteed, but for those volunteers who followed the recommendations of the study, development of such disease happened at a much older age than in those men who neglected to lead a healthy lifestyle. Heart disease was delayed by up to 12 years and dementia was held off for 6 years. The final part of the study suggests that the amount of healthy behaviours adopted by the volunteers had an impact on their disease development. It suggests that if the researchers had encouraged the participants to adopt one new healthy behaviour then the incidences of chronic disease would have dropped further.
Elwood, P et al., Healthy lifestyles reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and dementia: evidence from the Caerphilly cohort study, PLosOne, v.8 (12); 2013