By Annie Hauser
You know smoking, drinking, and eating junk food can shorten your life, but do you know how much?
Now, thanks to a paper from the University of Cambridge published in the British Medical Journal, it's possible to attach a number to those bad habits.
David Spiegelhalter, PhD, a biostatistician and risk communication expert, used the speed of aging and previous epidemiological mortality studies to quantify how certain behaviors benefit and hurt us.
Here are a few of the behaviors that can shave 30 minutes per day off of a person's life:
- Smoking two cigarettes a day
- Drinking two extra alcoholic drinks a day (three a day for women and four a day for men)
- One portion of red meat a day
- An extra 11 pounds of body weight
- Watching two hours of television a day
It's not all bad news, though. The following behaviors can add time to your life, according to Spiegelhalter's analysis:
- Taking a daily statin adds 30 minutes a day
- Drinking one alcoholic drink a day adds 30 minutes a day
- Exercising moderately for 20 minutes a day adds 1 hour a day
- A daily diet of fresh fruits and vegetables adds 2 hours a day
- Being female rather than male adds 2 hours a day
This type of analysis shows a general audience how to understand long-term risks and rewards for their behavior, Spiegelhalter writes: "We are bombarded by advice about the benefit and harms of our behaviors but how do we decide what is important? I suggest a simple way of communicating the impact of a lifestyle or environmental risk factor, based on the associated daily pro rata effect on expected length of life."
Spiegelhalter cautions that these statistics are averages over populations and lifetimes, and ignore variability among individual responses to certain behaviors. There is also no consideration of quality of life, he says, so you could spend the extra half-hour per day that you're gaining for good behavior in some undesirable way.
Fortunately for the upcoming holiday season, the paper noted explicitly that the risks do not apply to single exposures like your blowout office holiday party or over-the-top Christmas Day feast, so enjoy an extra eggnog tonight — just don't drink an extra one every night for the next 30 years.
"A Burger for Lunch Shaves 30 Minutes a Day off Your Life" originally appeared on Everyday Health.