Wake up and look after yourself, health experts warn

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Media captionProf Elwood said the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle were 'enormous'

People in Wales need to "wake up" and take responsibility for their health to avoid disease and early death, leading experts have warned.

It comes after one of the most influential research projects ever undertaken found healthy living can dramatically reduce chronic illness.

Cardiff University researchers have been tracking the habits of 2,500 men from Caerphilly since 1979.

Unhealthy living has accounted for 10% of NHS spending in Wales since then.

The Caerphilly Cohort Study is the longest-running research project of its kind looking into the influence of environmental factors on conditions such as cancer, dementia, diabetes and heart disease.

What the 35-year study found

Those who followed four or five health steps, including exercise, a balanced diet, not smoking, maintaining a healthy bodyweight and low alcohol intake, were:

  • 70% less likely to develop diabetes
  • 60% less likely to have heart attacks and strokes
  • 40% less likely to have cancers
  • 60% less likely to suffer from dementia

According to the latest Welsh Health Survey, less than 1% of adults in Wales follow the five health steps, while 39% live a lifestyle considered unhealthy.

Unhealthy living has accounted for 10% of Welsh NHS costs since the study began, while the annual cost of prevention and public services in Wales is £280m.

Professor Peter Elwood, who led the study, said although the research showed healthy living was not a complete prevention, the men who did develop chronic illnesses did so at a much older age than those who led "neglectful lifestyles".

He said the study was a "wake-up call" for the people of Wales to change their habits.

"The appalling fact is that recent surveys across the whole of Wales yield almost identical proportions of men and women following the healthy and the unhealthy lifestyles that had been found in Caerphilly 35 years ago," he said.

"As a nation, we must wake up to the preventive power of living a healthy life."

The findings of the study, shared at a healthy ageing summit in Cardiff on Thursday, have paved the way for new studies into health and lifestyle, including research involving half-a-million people in the UK.

Work on how thinking function declines and dementia is continuing under the UK Biobank study led by Prof John Gallacher at Cardiff's School of Medicine.

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