Q. If I quit smoking and start watching my diet now, how much healthier will I be in the long run?
A. People who change their lifestyles for the better have been shown to have long-lasting improvements in their health. In one study, people who received, and followed, advice on improving their health habits continued to benefit decades later.
For the study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine in 2016, researchers studied more than 16,000 healthy men who were at increased risk of having a heart attack.
The men were randomly assigned to five years in a healthy lifestyle group or a control group in which participants received no special interventions.
Participants in the healthy lifestyle group were scheduled for clinical visits every six months, in which smokers were advised to quit smoking, overweight people were advised to lose weight, and everyone was advised to eat less saturated fat and more fish, vegetables, and fruit.
In the next eight to 20 years, people in the healthy lifestyle group were less likely than those in the control group to die overall. People in the healthy lifestyle group also were 29 percent less likely than those in the control group to experience a fatal heart attack—a benefit that persisted for 40 years.
The study authors suggested that regular healthy lifestyle counseling over five years can lead to lifelong benefits.
Learn more about reducing your risk of heart disease.