Harvard Men's Health Watch

The numbers game: Risk factors, lifestyle, and longevity

How are you?

This simple question may soon give way to a growing array of more sophisticated queries: What's your cholesterol? Your blood pressure? Your weight? Your PSA? And with increasing health awareness, even these inquiries are beginning to sound quaint, as men ask about LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, systolic and diastolic blood pressures, BMIs and waist circumferences, free and total PSAs.

To men who grew up in a simpler era, it must seem like a tyranny of numbers. Knowing your numbers may stand you in good stead on the 19th hole, but do they really matter for your future health? Researchers have wondered, too — and their answers are good news for gents with good numbers, especially if they also have good health habits. And here's more good news: you don't need the latest sophisticated numbers to know where you stand. Instead, a few simple measurements and health habits will do — and good results in midlife predict successful aging and longevity.

Major studies, major impact

Back in 1999, an extraordinarily large study evaluated the impact of just three risk factors: total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL, a blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg or lower, and no current cigarette smoking. The participants included 360,430 men between the age of 18 and 59. Men who had all three favorable risk factors enjoyed 50% to 58% lower mortality rates than their peers with less favorable profiles.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »