Alcohol consumption and smoking are two common lifestyle factors that have been extensively researched for their potential effects on health. Both are modifiable factors, although not always easy to change. To find out more about how each may contribute to the prospects of healthy ageing, please follow the links below:

Alcohol

Many people consume alcohol as part of their regular lifestyle and yet alcohol misuse is a major concern: it is estimated that around 15% of Australian men and 11% of women drink alcohol at either “risky” or “high risk” levels. So for most people, reducing alcohol consumption may be advisable. However, popular media is increasingly circulating research suggesting small amounts of alcohol consumption may offer some health benefits.

The official advice on alcohol consumption – issued by the National Health and Medical Research Council – is that there is no guaranteed “safe” or “no risk” level of alcohol consumption. Indeed, any alcohol consumption at all has been associated with increased risk of some conditions.

Alcohol consumption is typically discussed in relation to standard drinks – and these are not the same as normal drink servings. For example a restaurant serving of red wine typically contains around 1.6 standard drinks. A list of standard drinks per beverage is available at the Department of Health website.

Heavy consumption of alcohol (typically defined as more than four standard drinks per day) is associated with many health hazards. Heavy alcohol consumption directly causes some diseases but also increases stress on a number of organs, leading to increased disease risk.

Smoking

Tobacco smoking is one of the least controversial factors influencing healthy ageing. It is widely accepted that smoking has substantial detrimental effects on health, with the evidence so strong that warning messages have been included on Australian cigarette and tobacco product packaging for many years.

Cigarettes are estimated to contain around 4,000 different chemicals, 400 of which are considered harmful. Research suggests that non-smokers not only live longer but the additional years of life are at better quality of life than smokers.

There is no safe level for smoking of tobacco products, and large public health promotions aim to reduce population based smoking levels to zero.

Smoking is harmful through its effects on the whole body, not just the lungs. Within the lungs, smoking makes it harder for the body to exchange gases. However, smoking also triggers the release of many oxygen “free radicals”, mal-formed oxygen particles that are associated with wide-reaching harmful effects to the body.


Useful Links


NHMRC

Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol

Department of Health

Reduce Your Risk: New National Guidelines for Alcohol Consumption

Department of Health

Standard Drinks Guide

DrinkWise

Alcohol and Your Health

Quit

Health Benefits of Quitting

Quit

Health Risks of Smoking

Quit

Quitline

Make Smoking History

Am I ready to quit smoking?


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