Researchers at Oregon State University found two-thirds of adults in the United States participate in one or two of the lifestyle behaviors, but very few had all four of the characteristics.
The four characteristics — a good diet, moderate exercise, healthy BMI and not smoking — are considered tenets of basic health, but the researchers said they were surprised so few people had more than one or two.
“This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle,” Ellen Smit, an associate professor at Oregon State University, said in a press release. “This is sort of mind boggling. There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.”
For the study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, researchers analyzed data on 4,745 adults collected between 2003 and 2006 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants were asked to wear an accelerometer to measure movement, with a goal of about 150 minutes per week, in addition to measurements of body fat using x-ray absorptiometry and “healthy diet” defined as being in the top 40 percent of people who follow USDA food recommendations.
These measurements were weighed against biomarkers of cardiovascular health, including blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose, fasting triglycerides and C-reactive protein.
The researchers found 71 percent of adults did not smoke, 46 percent maintained healthy levels of exercise, 10 percent had normal body fat and 38 percent ate a healthy diet. Just 2.7 percent of all participants had all four characteristics, 16 percent had three, 37 percent had two, 34 percent had one and 11 percent of people had none.
Women were less likely to smoke and more likely to eat healthier, but were less active. Adults over 60 had fewer healthy characteristics than those between 20 and 39, but were less likely to smoke or be active and more likely to eat a healthy diet.
Smit said the more healthy lifestyles one has, the better cardiovascular biomarkers will look, but she was surprised so few had them considering “we weren’t looking for marathon runners.”
“The behavior standards we were measuring for were pretty reasonable — not super high,” she said.
More research is needed to find ways of encouraging younger adults to pick up more of the healthy lifestyle characteristics, Smit added.