Dr. Victor Marchione shares his views on habits and long-term gains
What if I told you that watching TV for two hours takes 30 minutes off your life? We’d all be digging an early grave.
A British study looked at how common daily habits can have an impact on your health and longevity, like alcohol consumption, exercise and getting those leafy green vegetables onto our plates. It’s interesting material that puts our short-term gratification into long-term perspective.
Streaming two episodes of House of Cards every day for a week decreases your lifespan by 210 minutes (although it would keep you in the loop on Frank Underwood’s manipulative tactics in the Oval Office).
If you’re on your second beer while TV binge-watching, you can subtract another 15 minutes every day you indulge – and shave another two hours off your life per day just for being a guy. In one week alone, you’ll shorten your life by 19 hours. Multiply that by weeks and years, and you’re closer to the coffin than you might have thought…
Point being, science has shown that there are daily activities (and gender factors) that add or subtract years from your life.
David Spiegelhalter, an investigator with the University of Cambridge Behaviour and Health Research Unit, decided to pin down those lifestyle habits that impact aging, and find a meaningful way to communicate the benefits and harms of our behaviors.
And if you look at all the clinical evidence that shows the effects of diet, exercise and other lifestyle factors on our health, this is a message that needs to get out there. Obesity in the United States is out of control, despite small gains in young children reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February, and we’re eating more low-quality, processed food than ever before.
Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles recently came out with a study that found eating junk food not only makes you fat, it can make you lazy. After just three months, rodents fed a high-sugar, processed diet were fatter and less motivated, suggesting the diet had a negative impact on their tiny rodent brains. Is that afternoon Kit Kat bar really worth it, time after time?
Depends on how you see it.
For the most part, when you talk about long-term health, people tend to dismiss effects that are perceived to lie in the distant future. No pleasure, be it eating red meat or Peek Freans with your evening tea, is worth giving up for the sake of a couple more years in a geriatric home dining on beef and carrot puree. But telling someone that his “lifelong habit of eating burgers for lunch is, when averaged over the lifetimes of many people, associated with a loss of half an hour a day in life expectancy. Which is, unless you are a quite a slow eater, longer than it takes to eat the burger,” Spiegelhalter writes in his report “Using speed of aging and ‘microlives’ to communicate the effects of lifetime habits and environment” published in the British Medical Journal.
Spiegelhalter looked at numerous studies to come up with a list of behaviors and lifelong hazard ratios to dial them down to the actual loss of minutes shaved off your life, brought on by those habits. He based his risk theory on change in life expectancy for men and women aged 35 years; the average 35 year old in England has a life expectancy of about 48 years. A half hour of adult life expectancy is termed a “microlife” as it is loosely equivalent to one-millionth of life after 35.
On the upside, he also looked at positive behaviors that extend your lifespan, putting them into the daily formula. Good news! You can add 30 minutes to your lifespan every day you drink two to three cups of coffee (now we’re talking) and one hour every day you get your heart rate up for 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. Give yourself an additional 30 minutes for the next 40 minutes of cardio beyond the first 20.
Then skip the beef burger and eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables to allot you two hours to your life every day you get your five in. Drinking just one alcoholic beverage on a given day adds 30 minutes to your golden years.
Yes, diet and exercise, my friends, diet and exercise. I counsel my patients with this fond refrain often, and it never tires or rings less true. Make simple changes to your daily routine and you’ll enjoy those precious minutes of good health down the road.
Related Reading: Sitting at work deadlier than smoking!