As scientists study how we age, they are making some astonishing discoveries about life expectancy. For instance, if you’re like most Americans, tonight you’ll shrink your life expectancy by more than an hour when you engage in one particular activity. And we all do it.
According to researchers, our favorite life expectancy killer is television.
The average American watches 2.8 hours of television every day. But research in Australia that measured the health-destroying effects of television concluded that each hour of television that we watch reduces our life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. So if you watch the average amount of TV tonight, your life expectancy will shorten by about 61.8 minutes.
Sitting For Less Life Expectancy
Scientists believe that correlation of lowered life expectancy with increased TV viewing is linked to the detrimental influence that sitting causes to our well-being.
“What has happened is that a lot of the normal activities of daily living that involved standing up and moving the muscles in the body have been converted to sitting,” says researcher David Dunstan, Ph.D., of the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia. “Technological, social, and economic changes mean that people don’t move their muscles as much as they used to — consequently the levels of energy expenditure as people go about their lives continue to shrink. For many people, on a daily basis they simply shift from one chair to another — from the chair in the car to the chair in the office to the chair in front of the television.”
The Australian study showed that every hour in front of the television leads to:
- An 11 percent increased risk of death from all causes.
- A 9 percent increased risk of cancer death.
- An 18 percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD)-related death.
Cigarettes: Millions Succumb
Despite the widespread publicity about the deadly effects of cigarettes, many people continue to smoke and, worldwide, tobacco use still causes millions to die prematurely. According to the Australian researchers, every cigarette you smoke shortens your life expectancy by about 11 minutes, the equivalent to watching about half an hour of television.
Research at the University of Buffalo shows that about 100 million people lived shorter lives in the past century because of tobacco use. The scientists estimate that as smoking becomes more popular around the world, more than 1 billion people will die early deaths because of tobacco during the current century.
The Chinese seem particularly susceptible to increasing health damage from tobacco because their government is doing little to discourage it.
“China National Tobacco, for example, which is owned by the Chinese government, sponsors dozens of elementary schools, where students are subjected to pro-tobacco propaganda. Some messages even equate tobacco use with academic success,” says researcher Gary A. Giovino. “I find that mind-boggling.”
No Exercise, No Vegetables, No Longevity
If you didn’t eat any fruits or vegetables today and you didn’t exercise, you also shortened your life significantly. Research in Denmark shows that when men perform a consistent exercise like daily jogging, they increase their life expectancy by 6.2 years. Women boost their longevity by 5.6 years.
“The results of our research allow us to definitively answer the question of whether jogging is good for your health,” says researcher Peter Schnohr, chief cardiologist of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. “We can say with certainty that regular jogging increases longevity. The good news is that you don’t actually need to do that much to reap the benefits.”
The Danish scientists found that the optimal amount of exercise to increase longevity consisted of about 20 minutes a day. That amount of jogging improves oxygen uptake, increases insulin sensitivity, improves lipid profiles (raising HDL and lowering triglycerides), lowers blood pressure, reduces platelet aggregation, increases fibrinolytic activity, improves cardiac function, boosts bone density, improves immune function, reduces inflammation markers, prevents obesity and improves psychological function. “The improved psychological well-being may be due to the fact that people have more social interactions when they’re out jogging,” says Schnohr.
Other research shows the synergistic benefits of combining exercise with a diet containing plenty of fruits and vegetables. When scientists at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University studied women aged 70 to 79 years, they found that the women who were the most active and ate the most fruits and vegetables were the least likely to die during the five-year study.
A quick way to stretch your life expectancy is to throw away the TV, ditch the cigarettes, go out for a jog, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Or you could try jogging on a treadmill while watching TV instead of lounging on the couch. And don’t forget to munch on carrot sticks instead of chips!