It is pretty safe to say that most of us want to live a long, healthy life. We want to enjoy our grandchildren. After working for decades, we want ample time to do all the things we have dreamed of doing all our life, as soon as we retire. And while there are no guarantees in life, it is safe to say that being more health-conscious will bode well for our efforts. We have a lot more control than we may we think, with and more and more research, pointing to the idea our genes aren’t as strong a determinant of the state of our heath, as our lifestyle choices. And as such, it would behoove us to educate ourselves about what habits are good, and which ones need to be discarded. Here are is a sampling of the latter.
The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse
One study that appeared in the Archives of Internal Medicine a few years back compiled some very compelling evidence that four particular habits may shorten our life by 12 years. That is more than a whole decade…that’s a big deal. They are: smoking, poor diet, inactivity and drinking too much. Researchers followed almost 5,000 British adults for over 20 years, and assigned them a score based on how many of the habits they engaged in, with none getting a score of zero, and all four getting you a four. Specifically, the habits were smoking, drinking more than three drinks a day for men and two for women, eating less than three servings of fruits or vegetables a day, and engaging in physical activity for less than two hours a week.According to death certificates, the higher the score, the shorter the lifespan. The most common causes of morbidity were cancer and cardiovascular disease, both of which are heavily linked to lifestyle. One of the most interesting things to note about the study were the generally relaxed guidelines that show you don’t necessarily need to be extremely healthy. For example, two pieces of fruit and a glass of juice would count as three servings of fruits and vegetables. Compare that to the US guidelines of having at least four cups of fruits and vegetables a day. The results suggest that all the different habits add up to a nice cumulative effect of increasing the odds of living longer.
Get Off Your Duff
Lately there has been more research examining the effects of not just inactivity overall, but spending long amounts of time sitting. Even if people engage in regular physical activity, prolonged sitting, regardless of the activity, was associated with a shorter life span. One study looked at 220,000 people and found that people who sat more than 11 hours a day were 40 percent more likely to die within three years compared to people who sat less than four hours. Sitting eight to 11 hours upped the risk by 15 percent. Researchers controlled for a variety of factors that could lifespan, such as age, gender, education, body mass index, smoking habits, diet, and living environment. This study was particularly poignant because of the large number of people and the fact it looked at total time spent sitting, not just time spent engaged in sedentary activities like watching television.
While the aforementioned study noted fruit and vegetable consumption as a major factor in longevity, there are some other points to consider as well in terms of what you may want to avoid. People who have a protein intake, in the form of meat and dairy, were 74 percent more likely to die of any cause, and four times more likely to die of cancer in one 18-year study. These risks are comparable to that of people who smoke. There were some limitations though in that it did not distinguish between meat that was farm-raised and factory-farmed. Soda can be very damaging to longevity. Research has found it can negatively effect telomeres, which are like ‘caps’ at the end of chromosomes that shield against deterioration. This deterioration causes all sorts of issues from premature aging to disease formation. It can also age immune system cells prematurely.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of bad habits that may negatively impact your health and shorten lifespan, but these considerations are certainly a good place to start. The key to dropping bad habits and picking up new ones is being patient with yourself in making the transition. If you had the willpower to totally transform overnight, you probably would already be the shining example of health. It is important to remember lots of little changes can add up to big results, so don’t worry about having to become obsessed with healthy living, and making it the focal point of your life to the degree it causes great anxiety and stress.