Background: Recent trends toward increasing physical exercise, stopping cigarette smoking, and avoiding obesity may increase longevity. We analyzed changes in the lifestyles of Harvard College alumni and the associations of these changes with mortality.
Methods: Men who were 45 to 84 years of age in 1977 and who had reported no life-threatening disease on questionnaires completed in 1962 or 1966 and again in 1977 were classified according to changes in lifestyle characteristics between the first and second questionnaires. We analyzed changes in their level of physical activity, cigarette smoking, blood pressure, and body weight, and the relation of these factors to mortality between 1977 and 1985.
Results: Of the 10,269 men, 476 died during this period (which totaled 90,650 man-years of observation). Beginning moderately vigorous sports activity (at an intensity of 4.5 or more metabolic equivalents) was associated with a 23 percent lower risk of death (95 percent confidence interval, 4 to 42 percent; P = 0.015) than not taking up moderately vigorous sports. Quitting cigarette smoking was associated with a 41 percent lower risk (95 percent confidence interval, 20 to 57 percent; P = 0.001) than continuing smoking, but with a 23 percent higher risk than constant nonsmoking. Men with recently diagnosed hypertension had a lower risk of death than those with long-term hypertension (relative risk, 0.75; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.55 to 1.02; P = 0.057), as did men with consistently normal blood pressure (relative risk, 0.52; 95 percent confidence interval, 0.40 to 0.68; P < 0.001). Maintenance of lean body mass was associated with a lower mortality rate than long-term, recent, or previous obesity. The associations between changes in lifestyle and mortality were independent and were largely undiminished by age. Our findings on death from coronary heart disease mirrored those on death from all causes.
Conclusions: Beginning moderately vigorous sports activity, quitting cigarette smoking, maintaining normal blood pressure, and avoiding obesity were separately associated with lower rates of death from all causes and from coronary heart disease among middle-aged and older men.