Life is short - and you can make it shorter

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London - In a season when eating, drinking and being merry are the order of the day, it’s a rather sobering thought.

Whenever you have a couple of drinks or lounge in front of the TV, you could be knocking several hours off your life, according to research.

Smoking two cigarettes or eating a burger are also said to cut around 30 minutes from life expectancy each time you indulge.

And since we’re more likely to give in to these sorts of temptation at this time of year, enjoying our Christmas celebrations could actually be making our lives shorter.

But it’s not all bad news. If you need inspiration for your new year’s resolutions, it seems it’s possible to win back this “lost” time – by limiting alcohol intake, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables and exercising.

While it will come as no surprise that unhealthy habits can speed up ageing, a leading statistician claims that the effects of such indulgences can actually be measured.

Professor David Spiegelhalter of the University of Cambridge has devised a formula to communicate the impact our bad habits have on our lifespan.

He has come up with the concept of “microlives” – half hours of life expectancy which can be gained or lost depending on how we behave. Using data from population studies he calculated that a microlife can be ‘lost’ from having two cigarettes or one burger in a day, averaged over a lifetime habit.

Being more than half a stone overweight, having more than one alcoholic drink in a day or watching two hours of television also removes a microlife. But microlives can be gained from sticking to healthy habits – such as having no more than one alcoholic drink in a day, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising and taking statins.

In an article on medical website bmj.com, Professor Spiegelhalter said a lifelong habit of a burger for lunch would typically account for the loss of half an hour a day in life expectancy “which is, unless you are quite a slow eater, longer than it takes to eat the burger”.

And life expectancy factors beyond our control can also be expressed in microlives. For example, being female rather than male is equal to a gain of four microlives a day, while living in 2010 rather than 1910 results in a gain of 15 microlives a day, he said.

Professor Spiegelhalter suggested that his formula allows us to make rough but fair comparisons between our lifestyle choices and the risks that come with them.

For example, he said: “Each day of smoking 20 cigarettes (10 microlives) is as if you are rushing towards your death at 29 hours a day instead of 24.”

But he warned that these estimates of speed of ageing are based on averages of behaviour and lifespan, and do not take account any variation between individuals or the fact that many of our bad habits do not last a lifetime.

Professor Spiegelhalter said half an hour of adult life expectancy can be termed a “microlife” because it is loosely equivalent to one millionth of an average life after the age 35. - Daily Mail

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