Three Things That Will Kill You

Stuff That Shorten Your Mortal Coil


In the last post, we looked at some non-diet, non-exercise things that can extend life. Now let’s look at the things that will kill you faster, increasing your risk of premature death. As always, it’s not just knowing that things are bad but quantifying how bad they are that gives the tools to decide what habits to keep or drop. In this blog post, we will explore three everyday practices that can increase your risk of dying from various causes: smoking, watching TV, and drinking sugary beverages.

1. Smoking

Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable death worldwide. Smoking cigarettes has been linked to severe health problems, including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory diseases. The Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health reviewed five habits, like eating healthy food, exercising, etc., and for a long life, and *not* smoking gave the greatest increase in life expectancy compared with people who did.1Charts showing the 8 year cost of heavy smoking

Reductions in smoking helped. Reducing 25+ cigarettes/day to less than 15 reduced the risk of premature death by over 50%. Quitting smoking reduces the risk compared with heavy smokers by nearly 80%.2

How do vaping and e-cigarettes compare? Despite being invented back in 2003, it’s challenging to find observational research on premature death from e-cigs. Looking at the overall statistics for lung cancer incidence and death, it has been declining in the US, but smoking is also declining, so it’s hard to see if that impacts e-cigarettes. E-cigs are generally considered to be less harmful than cigarettes since they avoid many of the toxic chemicals from the smoke. Still, they bring new chemicals with less well-known effects3. Due to the easier availability and convenience of e-cigs, people who use them may smoke more than they would if using cigarettes, so the reduction in premature death may not be significant.

2. Watching Too Much TV

While watching TV may not seem like a dangerous activity, it can have a significant impact on your health. A 2015 meta-analysis found that up to three hours of TV daily does not have substantial mortality effects. After three hours, though, the risk of premature death increases linearly, from a 12% increased risk at four hours to nearly a 50% increase at seven hours daily.4

Remote in front of TV
Does lifting the remote count as Low-Intensity Physical Activity?

Does computer time or driving time carry the same risks? Fortunately, a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that driving and computer use was fine — only TV carried the additional risk.5

In previous decades, there has been concern that sitting itself was unhealthy, which led to sitting timers reminding you to stand up after sitting a while. However, studies since 2010 have found that it was mostly either extended TV watching or a lack of Low-Intensity Physical Activity that was unhealthy.

It’s better to limit daily TV to three hours or less and work on getting lots of LIPA activity, like walking or household chores, than worrying about how much time you sit in a day.

3. Drinking Sugary Beverages

Sugary beverages, including soda, sports drinks, and fruit juices, are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet, according to the CDC6. But, from a health and longevity perspective, the problem isn’t the “sugary” part–it’s the “beverage” part. Drinking sugar causes unique health challenges separate from eating sugar.

A 2019 study using Swedish cohorts found that sugar intake increased premature death, but only when that sugar was in a beverage. Adding sugar to the diet from snacks (cake, cookies, candy, chocolate, etc.) or toppings (jam, syrup, honey, etc.) actually reduced premature death by 20% or 10%, respectively, for about one serving per day. After that serving, there was no further benefit or harm for consuming more.7

On the other hand, drinking twelve ounces per day of sugary beverages would increase premature death by about 10%8. For comparison, that’s about as much as eating three daily servings of vegetables reduces premature death.

But what counts as a sugary drink? Only colas? Nope. Fruit juices are sugary beverages, just like colas. Even smoothies can cause similar sugar spikes as fruit juices, and so may have the same negative impacts on longevity.

Try switching to coffee, tea, or water.

Coffee and Tea
Coffee or tea, my dear?


In conclusion, smoking, watching TV, and drinking sugary beverages are all activities that can have a significant impact on your health and risk of premature death. However, quitting smoking, limiting your consumption of sugary beverages, and reducing your screen time to under three hours can improve your health and reduce your risk of chronic conditions. Remember, small changes can make a big difference in the long run.

  1. The Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US population
  2. The Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US population
  3. An updated overview of e-cigarette impact on human health
  4. Association Between Television Viewing Time and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis of Cohort Studies
  5. Television Viewing, Computer Use, Time Driving and All‐Cause Mortality: The SUN Cohort
  6. Get the Facts: Added Sugars
  7. Association between added sugar intake and mortality is nonlinear and dependent on sugar source in 2 Swedish population–based prospective cohorts
  8. Food groups and risk of all-cause mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies

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