How to Add 18 Years to Your Life

If you eat a nutritious diet, exercise regularly, drink less than 15 alcoholic beverages a week, and don’t smoke, you can expect to outlive guys who fall short in these areas by a staggering 17.9 years. This comes from a new Ottawa Hospital Research Institute study that also determined unhealthy lifestyle habits account for 50 percent of deaths in Canada.

The researchers analyzed survey data from roughly 90,000 Canadians to pinpoint the biggest lifestyle threats to longevity. Using an algorithm they created, they determined that smoking, responsible for 26 percent of all deaths, was the single biggest burden to men’s health, shaving 3.1 years off their lives. The next biggest killer was lack of physical activity, leading to 24 percent of all deaths. Poor diet caused 12 percent of deaths, while heavy drinking accounted for 0.4 percent.

“The big surprise for us was now that smoking rates have gone down steadily, physical inactivity is almost as big of a mortality risk, and unhealthy diet isn’t far behind,” says Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist at OHRI’s Clinical Epidemiology Program. “What concerns me is that everyone knows they should get 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week. Everyone knows they should eat five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Yet despite good intentions, so many people lack the motivation and ability to achieve these goals.”

Actually, the vast majority of adults fail to maintain all four healthy lifestyle habits. Manuel says past research has shown only about 3 percent of Americans make the grade. His team is currently crunching U.S. survey data to determine the effect of lifestyle habits on life expectancy, but he predicts the numbers will look even grimmer than those of Canadians. “In the U.S., people are more concentrated, which tends to lead to multiple bad behaviors,” Manuel says.

The fix? “Do everything you can to make healthy choices easy choices,” he suggests. That may mean packing your gym bag the night before you intend to exercise or keeping cut veggies front and center in your fridge. “Also work collectively with others — at the office, in your neighborhood—on making good intentions easier to deliver on,” Manuel adds. “For instance, at the hospital we now hold walking meetings, and people have stopped bringing doughnuts into the coffee room.”

To calculate your own fate, go to projectbiglife.ca and plug your stats into the life expectancy calculator created by Manuel’s team. This will measure you against Canadians not Americans, but the results will be fairly similar. If your flabby belly or recurrent hangovers haven’t been enough to inspire change, maybe viewing your prognosis in hard data will.

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