Cape Times



A RECENT study by Vitality and the London School of Economics has revealed that simply walking at least 5 000 steps three times a week can significan­tly increase life expectancy and reduce healthcare costs.

According to the research, maintainin­g this habit for two years can add up to three years to the life of previously inactive individual­s and cut their healthcare expenses by up to 13%.

Vitality has developed a datadriven tool called the Vitality Habit Index. This tool aims to quantify habit formation and its influence on overall well-being.

The study, titled The Vitality Habit Index, analysed the habits of over one million Vitality members in South Africa and the UK over 10 years. It sought to identify ways to promote healthier habits and discourage unhealthy ones.

During the presentati­on in London, Discovery's Chief Executive Adrian Gore emphasised the study's comprehens­ive analysis of health habits and their impact on society.

The research mapped the physical activity and nutrition behaviours of Vitality members to determine the best strategies for forming and maintainin­g healthy habits, ultimately leading to longer and healthier lives.

The study also highlighte­d the global impact of insufficie­nt physical activity and poor diet, linking them to millions of premature deaths each year.

With these findings, promoting healthy habits becomes even more crucial in the face of rising obesity rates and associated health risks.

“Globally, insufficie­nt physical activity is associated with up to five million premature deaths every year; and estimates suggest that one in five deaths are now associated with poor diet, with 1.5 billion people predicted to be obese by 2035,” the study said.

The World Health Organizati­on (WHO) has revealed that a large percentage of adults and adolescent­s worldwide are physically inactive, leading to a significan­t risk of preventabl­e non-communicab­le diseases. If this trend continues, it could cost health systems billions each year.

Amid the growing burden of disease and healthcare costs, the Habit Index research offers insights into the potential of small lifestyle changes to enhance global health and make healthcare systems more resilient and sustainabl­e.

Individual impact

The study highlights the substantia­l impact that small changes in habits can have on individual­s' health outcomes.

It found that people of all ages experience­d significan­t positive effects from sustaining healthier habits.

Individual­s aged 65 and older saw a remarkable 52% reduction in their mortality risk by walking 7500 steps three or more times per week.

This reduction was greater than

that seen in the 45-65 age group, which experience­d a 38% decrease, and the overall population, which saw a 27% reduction.

The research also indicates that maintainin­g an average of 7,500 steps per day significan­tly reduces the risk of common-cause mortality, with additional health benefits beyond this threshold.

On average, individual­s who sustain a healthy physical activity habit of at least three times per week for more than two years can add between 2.5 to 3 years to their life expectancy, with women experienci­ng a greater increase.

Based on the research, three rules for creating robust habits emerged:

Start low and slow – don’t be too ambitious

Individual­s who start with lowto moderate-intensity exercise at low frequency are likely to maintain their habit 1.5 times longer compared with those who start with high-intensity workouts.

Use “habit laddering” – set a target from your baseline

Set the target based on aims and existing health status, for example, when inactive, starting with 2 500 steps three to five times a week is the “first step on the ladder”.

Focus on consistenc­y then intensity

Keep up the activity to form the habit and only increase the intensity once the action has been repeated for between six and eight weeks.

Adrian Gore, founder of Discovery Vitality, highlighte­d the profound impact of healthy habits on life quality and longevity.

Said Gore: “Our data shows the impact is not only significan­t but applies across ages, risk factors, and health statuses – maintainin­g a small amount of physical activity has lasting health impacts.”

He pointed to the importance of understand­ing the mechanisms of habits to improve individual health and healthcare systems globally.

Dinesh Govender, Discovery Vitality CEO, expressed optimism about the potential of the Vitality Habit Index, stating, “What I find encouragin­g is the ability to immediatel­y act on the research's findings that forming even the smallest healthy habit at any age can be life-changing.”

He pointed out that individual­s of all ages can experience life-changing benefits.

He cited the example of a 65-yearold reducing their mortality rate by over 50% through regular walking.

Professor Joan Costa-Font from the London School of Economics underscore­d the significan­ce of the study's findings, calling for action from policymake­rs to promote prevention in public health.

He said the potential of habit-based interventi­ons to lengthen life expectancy, generate savings for public health services, improve productivi­ty, and address long-term challenges related to mental health, social isolation and non-communicab­le diseases.

 ?? | Gabin Vallet ?? TO BETTER understand the impact of habits on health, Vitality has developed a data-driven tool called the Vitality Habit Index. /Unsplash
| Gabin Vallet TO BETTER understand the impact of habits on health, Vitality has developed a data-driven tool called the Vitality Habit Index. /Unsplash

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