It turns out Jessie Tuck isn’t the only one with the key to longevity. While these doctors haven’t unlocked the secret to immortality, they have found 14 daily habits that shave days, months, and even years off your lifespan.
Beware these common practices that are increasing your risk of premature death — and check out the ways you can actually gain back years (page 15).
These are a life sucker. | Terroa/iStock/Getty Images
- Just two cigarettes cost you 30 minutes of your life
We all know smoking is bad for us. Still, the addictive habit is tough to shake, especially for those who are years in and hundreds of packs deep. While you know that quitting smoking would be better for your health, did you know that each cigarette shaves minutes off your life?
University of Cambridge statistician David Spiegelhalter found out exactly how many: 30 minutes per two cigarettes. That’s 5 hours a pack.
2. Skipping the spice
Your risk decreases if you use various spices. | Beats3/Getty Images
- Spicy food eaters have a 14% lower risk of death over time
It turns out people who eat spicy foods don’t just have more adventurous taste buds — they have a shot at living longer, too. Chinese researchers tracked over 3 million people during a 7-year period and found those who ate spicy foods each day were helping out their lifespan. The spicy food eaters had a 14% lower risk of death compared with people who ate spicy food less than once a week.
The active ingredient in chili pepper — capsaicin — is to thank. It has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.
Next: Skip McDonald’s
3. Eating processed and red meats
Processed meats aren’t good for anyone. | Nitrub/iStock/Getty Images
- One hamburger can take 30 minutes off your lifespan
Spiegelhalter concluded that eating just one hamburger can shave 30 minutes off your life as well. WebMD agrees: eating too much red meat increases your risk of heart disease and potentially cancer, specifically colorectal cancer. An NIH-AARP study found that Americans who ate significant levels of processed and red meat (4 ounces or more) a day over a 10-year period were more likely to die earlier than those who limited their intake to a half-ounce a day.
4. Watching TV
Skip your nightly TV time. | Gpetric/iStock/Getty Images
- Every 2 hour of TV you watch takes 30 minutes off your life
Watching copious amounts of TV isn’t just taking the life out of your years … it’s literally taking years out of your life. Spiegelhalter found that for every 2 hours you spend watching your favorite Netflix (or Hulu, or HBO, or cable) shows, you sacrifice 30 minutes of your lifespan.
In fact, an American Heart Association study found that watching almost any amount of TV holds consequences: specifically, people who watched three or more hours a day doubled their risk of early death. “Watching television is a passive, sedentary activity, and certainly people who do it for hours are not paying attention in terms of their lifestyle,” AHA cardiologist Nisa Goldberg said.
Next: A gym membership may dent your bank account, but it’ll be worth it in the end
5. Skipping your workout
Not showing up for your daily workout can hinder your life expectancy. | iStock.com/gzorgz
- Extreme obesity can shave 14 years off your life
- For every 11 pounds overweight you are, you shave 30 minutes off your life
Not only does frequent exercise have the power to increase your longevity, skipping a workout can take years off your life. Exercise helps you lose weight, keep your heart and lungs healthy, and prevents you from becoming obese: one of the major risk factors that lead to death.
A PLoS Medicine 30-year study found that carrying an extra 100 pounds can lead you to the same fate — early death — as an average-weight smoker. Extreme obesity (a BMI of 40 or more) can shorten your life by up to 14 years.
Next: Everything in moderation
6. Excessive drinking
Keep your drinking habits under control. | Kzenon/iStock/Getty Images
- Drinking 2+ standard drinks a day takes 30 minutes off your life
Drinking two standard drinks per day can decrease your lifespan by 30 minutes. However, alcohol consumption is a tough habit to pinpoint: consuming a certain amount can actually add years back to your life (page 15).
Binge drinking is ultimately the most dangerous to a healthy life. Excessive alcohol use results in an average of 88,000 premature deaths a year from 2006 to 2010 in the U.S. alone.
Next: It’s not just beauty rest, it’s longevity rest.
7. Sleep deprivation
A healthy night’s sleep is vital. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images
- You increase your risk of premature death by 12% if you ignore your insomnia
Researchers for the journal Sleep found that people who slept fewer than 7 hours a night had a 12% greater risk of death than those that got their 7-8 hours. They also suggested if you suffer from insomnia or consistently can’t hit 7 hours a night you should seek medical attention to address your sleep patterns.
Nearly 50% of Americans suffer from chronic sleep deprivation. Not only do you affect your lifespan by sleeping less, chronically tired people are less focused and worse at making decisions, both of which can be fatal when driving.
8. Too much sleep
You can overdo it. | Minerva Studio/Getty Images
- Oversleeping can increase your risk of premature death by 15-30%
The same researchers found that sleeping too much puts you at risk of earlier death. People who slept at least 9 hours a night increased their risk of death by 30%. A 2015 study from the journal Neurology found that people who log over eight hours a night are at higher risk of stroke.
It turns out oversleeping also increases your type 2 diabetes risk. People with type 2 diabetes are 15% more likely to die prematurely than those without the disease.
Next: Introverts, beware
9. You spend a ton of time alone
Spending time with friends and family is vital. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images
- You could be 26% more likely to die early if you spend a ton of time alone than those who engage socially
Everyone needs time to themselves on occasion — for many, it’s crucial to their sanity — but extreme social isolation may do you more harm than good. A study from Perspectives on Psychological Science found that extreme pariahs are at greater risk of premature death. Severe loneliness increases your risk of premature death by 26%, and living alone raises that risk to 32%.
10. You have a killer commute
That traffic doesn’t do anyone good. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
- Long commuters have higher cortisol levels
- Higher levels of stress make you up to 3 times more likely to die early than those who remain relaxed
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that long commutes have a direct association to elevated blood pressure. Commuting more than 15 miles a day is associated with higher BMI and higher stress levels from heavy traffic.
Higher stress levels can lead to an increased risk of fatigue, anxiety, and social isolation, all of which can shave years off your life. An environmental psychology professor’s research showed that long and crowded commutes — whether on foot or by car — raised their cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
Next: Don’t doubt the power of an active profession
11. You sit on the job
Sitting is called the new smoking, after all. | Gzorgz/iStock/Getty Images
- Every 2 hours you sit increases your risk of contracting fatal cancers
You complain on a weekly basis that your job is “totally killing you,” but if you have a desk job, it literally might be. Statistically, sitting all day is nearly as bad for you as smoking and raises your risk of many different cancers. Studies show that spending your hours sedentary raises your risk of cardiovascular disease, ovarian cancer (in women), and type 2 diabetes.
Statistically, sitting all day long is almost as bad for your health as smoking. Not only does it make it all too easy to be out of shape, it actually increases your risk of several cancers, a 2014 study found. Each two-hour increase in sitting time upped people’s risks for colon, endometrial, and lung cancers, regardless of whether they still exercised during the day.
Next: You can still tell everyone to lighten up.
12. You soak up too much sun
Limit your daily sun exposure. | iStock.com/wazymodo
- A life of sun exposure can take decades off your life if you get skin cancer
Melanoma is responsible for the majority of skin cancer deaths. This means that your risk of skin cancer is entirely preventable if you choose the right sunscreen — and apply it daily. Start with an SPF 15 (or higher) face lotion each day to reduce your risk.
It isn’t just skin cancer that can lead to premature death — baking in the heat increases your risk of heat stroke, which can cause serious damage to your brain and internal organs. Forty-six percent of skin-cancer related deaths occur in people younger than 70.
Next: Be careful what joints you crack
13. You crack your neck
This horror story will give you pause. | iStock.com/SIphotography
- In a rare turn of events, a 42-year-old man cut decades off his life — just by cracking his neck
This was by far the most surprising find — cracking your neck makes you more susceptible to serious injuries. Dr. Michael Gleiber, an orthopedic surgeon, told Health how cracking your neck can seriously injure you. It makes the ligaments surrounding your neck more susceptible to injury.
Excessive motion on these joints can lead to arthritis over time and, in rare cases, cause a stroke.
Next: Posture is key to a long, healthy life.
14. You have a bad hunch
Stand and walk straight. | Evryka23/iStock/Getty Images
- One in every 5 people who die from heart disease are under 65 years of age
Dr. Rene Cailliet, a physical therapist, found that bad posture doesn’t just lead to arthritis. In certain situations, hunching forward affects your lung capacity by nearly 30%.
Sitting and standing straighter — whether on a walk or at work — can help you breathe easier and decrease your risk of decreased lung function, back pain, and gastrointestinal pain. Compromised lungs decrease the oxygenated blood your heart and brain receive, which can lead to heart and vascular disease.
Next: The three habits you should adopt to gain back years.
15. Turns out we can gain back life as well
There are ways to offset your bad habits, too. | OJO Images/iStock/Getty Images
- Limit alcohol consumption to 1 drink per day to gain back 30 minutes
- Exercise for at least 20 minutes to gain back 1 hour
- Eat fresh fruits and veggies to gain back nearly 2 hours
It seems we aren’t as different from video game characters as we think: Humans too can gain back “life” by engaging in these healthy habits. Spiegelhalter’s research concluded the following practices can earn you back some of the life you spent smoking cigarettes in college.
Offset the above “lifespan deductions” by limiting alcohol consumption to one drink per day to gain back 30 minutes of life. Exercising for 20 minutes earns you an hour. Eating fresh fruits and veggies can give you up to 2 hours — so skip the red meat and grab the salad instead.
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