As much as we might know about how to stay healthy, many of us view our actual lifespan as somewhat mystical and out of our hands. Science says: Yes and no. Recent research indicates that some common habits can shorten your life by years—and scientists have put hard numbers to how much time many of them can steal. Chances are you’re doing some of these things everyday and underestimating just how consequential they can be for your health. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Ever swore that job, relationship or family stress was about to do you in? Scientists say you might be right. Over time, being chronically stressed can age you on the cellular level. Harvard Medical School reports that chronic stress can shorten telomeres, the structures inside each cell that contain genetic information. As telomeres get shorter, cells age and eventually die; when too many cells expire, so does the organism that houses them. Some researchers have put hard numbers to this phenomenon: In a 2020 study published in BMJ Open, Finnish scientists found that being under heavy stress shortened men’s lives by an average of 2.8 years, and women’s lives by an average of 2.3 years.
A great night’s sleep doesn’t just feel refreshing. During sleep, the body repairs and reboots its most vital systems, including the brain and immunity, and going without can age you before your time. Scientists at UCLA found that just one night of bad sleep actually makes older adults’ cells age faster. And several studies have found that not getting enough quality sleep—that’s seven to nine hours each night—can increase your chances of potentially life-shortening illnesses from cancer and heart disease to obesity, diabetes and dementia.
To slash your risk of several age-related diseases—particularly dementia—stay social. Several studies have found that social isolation can have negative health effects similar to obesity, physical inactivity, and smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but loneliness seems to stoke the body’s stress response, causing chronic inflammation that can damage the heart, brain and immune system.
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We all know exercise is great for health, but recent research suggests that being too sedentary can shave years off your life. One study found that adults who get 150 minutes or more of moderate exercise each week can add about five years to their lives. Research published in September found that people who take 7,000 to 9,000 steps a day—or 30 to 45 minutes of exercise most days—reduce their chance of premature death by up to 70%. Sound daunting? Literally anything is better than nothing when it comes to longevity: A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercising for just ten minutes a week is enough to increase your lifespan.
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A study published in BMJ found that consuming more red meat is associated with an increased risk of dying from eight common diseases (including cancer, diabetes and heart disease), and from any cause at all. Analyzing health data from 537,000 adults, researchers found that people who consumed the most red meat had a 26 percent higher chance of dying than those who ate the least. People who ate the most white meat, including poultry and fish, were 25 percent less likely to die than people who consumed the least.
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Turns out “cheer up!” and “look on the bright side” may be more than just annoying specious entreaties. Studies have found that a positive attitude is associated with living longer. According to one study done by aging expert Becca Levy, a Yale psychology professor, people who had positive self-perceptions about growing older lived 7.5 years longer than people with more negative views. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.