The combination of 5 to 6 healthy habits in people over 60 years is associated with a halving of the risk of overusing some health services.
The elderly population has been growing in recent years and they are the ones that most use health services. It is known that healthy habits are associated with decreases in the suffering of diseases and mortality, but the combined impact of healthy habits in the use of health services has not been studied.
In a recent work, researchers from the Faculty of Medicine of the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), with the help of the Health Research Fund of the Carlos III Health Institute and European FEDER / ESF funds, analyzed the effect of the combination of 5 to 6 healthy habits in the use of several health services in elderly people in Spain.
"Doing a job like this was potentially relevant for several reasons. First: the adherence to healthy habits in the elderly is low. Second: better health conditions have been associated with lower healthcare costs. And third: intervene on several healthy habits could be more effective than isolated habits, "says José Ramón Banegas, director of work and researcher at the Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health of the UAM.
The results, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed for the first time that the combination of 5 to 6 healthy habits in older adults is associated - independently of other sociodemographic factors, lifestyles and chronic diseases - with a decrease in half the risk of polypharmacy, frequent visits to the primary care physician and hospitalization.
Study of healthy habits
Between 2008 and 2010, the researchers recruited a cohort of 2,519 people over 60 years old, based on the ENRICA study (Study of Nutrition and Cardiovascular Risk in Spain), representative of the Spanish elderly population.
The healthy habits studied were: never having smoked, being physically active, following a Mediterranean diet, sleeping 7-8 hours a day, sitting less than 8 hours a day and not living alone.
The participants were followed up to the years 2012-2013 with the aim of obtaining information on the use of health services. The health services for which they were asked were: polypharmacy (taking more than 5 medications per day), frequent visits to the primary care physician (1 time a month or more), or to the specialist (more than 1 time a year), have been hospitalized at least 1 time in the last year.
With the exception of visits to the specialist, the researchers observed a significant reduction in the utilization of health services with the increase in the number of healthy habits.
"For each additional healthy habit, the risk of polypharmacy decreased by 18%; 13% the risk of frequent visits to primary care, and 15% the risk of being hospitalized at least once a year, "says Banegas.
"In other words, compared to participants who did not fulfill any healthy habit or only one, those who met 5 or 6 had half the risk of polypharmacy, frequent visits to primary care and hospitalization," says Ana Hernández-Aceituno , first signatory of the work.
According to the authors, these results are important since, for example, polypharmacy affects 36% of the people in this study and increases the risk of improperly taking medications or having less adherence to treatment.
Likewise, the decrease in primary care visits and hospitalizations associated with a healthy lifestyle could lead to better care due to the lower workload, shorter waiting lists and a reduction in the complications associated with hospitalization.
Finally, this information has a potential clinical and public health relevance in decreasing the growing health costs associated with the epidemic use of health services in the elderly. For this reason, focusing public health strategies on the promotion of healthy habits could help reduce the avoidable or diminished healthcare costs associated with excessive use of health services.