September 5, 2006

Even Small Changes Boost Couch Potatoes’ Health

By Patricia Reaney

NORWICH (Reuters) - Even small changes can help confirmed couch potatoes improve their health and live longer, scientists said on Tuesday.

Although the benefits of exercise and a healthy diet are well known, people may think they have to make major changes in their lifestyle to obtain any results.

But data from a large study of 15,000 middle-aged and elderly people living in England shows that any increase in physical activity is beneficial.

"Simply ... moving from being totally inactive or sedentary to having any sort of physical activity -- less than half an hour on average of daily activity or more -- can be associated with something like a 20 percent lower risk of death in the next 10 years," said Dr Kay-Tee Khaw of the University of Cambridge.

"That is the equivalent of two to three years of extra life expectancy," she told a news conference at the BA Festival of Science.

The EPIC Norfolk study is part of a larger European project involving half a million people in 10 countries which examines the impact of exercise, diet and other habits on health.

Consuming just one additional serving of healthy food a day can make a difference.

"If you cumulatively take a lot of these behaviors such as increasing fruit and vegetable intake, increasing physical activity very modestly and stopping smoking, cumulatively they are associated with something like a 12-year difference in terms of chronological age and life expectancy," said Khaw.

"So really quite limited differences in lifestyle can be associated with substantial impact on life expectancy."