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Unhealthy Habits That Lead to Death

Stuff That Shorten Your Mortal Coil

Graveyard

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 effects.3 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

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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 CDC.6 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?

 

FAQs

  1. What are the main unhealthy habits that can lead to premature death?

The main unhealthy habits that can increase your risk of premature death encompass a range of detrimental behaviors. Apart from smoking, excessive TV watching, and consuming sugary beverages, other habits like poor diet choices, lack of physical activity, inadequate sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, and chronic stress can also significantly contribute to a higher risk of premature death.

  1. Can physical activity really prevent premature death?

Yes, regular exercise improves heart health, metabolism, and mental well-being. It decreases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers, contributing to a longer life.

  1. How does smoking impact premature death risk?

Smoking is a leading cause of premature death and among the worst unhealthy habits. It’s linked to severe health issues 9 like lung cancer, heart disease, and stroke. Quitting smoking can significantly reduce the risk of premature death.

  1. What’s the relationship between TV watching and premature death?

According to a study, watching for more than 3 hours can increase the chance of premature death. 10 This is most especially with avoidance to any physical activities and long sedentary periods.

It’s highly suggested to take at least 150 minutes moderate-intensity aerobics or 75 minutes of strenuous aerobics per week. And at least twice a week of moderate-to-high-intensity muscular strengthening.

  1. How do sugary beverages affect premature death risk?

Sugary beverages, including soda and packaged fruit juices, contribute to a higher risk of premature death and are part of unhealthy eating habits. Research suggests11 that the sugar in beverages, not from snacks or toppings, is linked to increased mortality.

  1. Can quitting smoking make a significant difference in health outcomes?

Yes, quitting smoking can lead to a substantial improvement in health outcomes. It can reduce the risk of various health issues associated with smoking, thereby decreasing the likelihood of premature death.

  1. How does diet impact premature death risk?

A balanced diet rich in nutrients from fruits, vegetables, legumes, a small amount of daily nuts, and fish proteins lowers the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, reducing the likelihood of premature death.

  1. Can reducing sugary beverage consumption positively impact longevity?

Yes, cutting down on sugary beverage intake can have a positive impact on longevity. Lowering the consumption of sugary drinks can help reduce the risk of premature death and related health problems.

  1. Are all sugary beverages equally harmful?
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Yes, sugary beverages like colas, fruit juices, and even smoothies can contribute to increased sugar intake and potential negative impacts on health. Switching to alternatives like coffee, tea, or water is recommended.

  1. Does quitting unhealthy habits make a difference in health outcomes?

Absolutely. Small changes like quitting smoking, reducing TV time, and opting for healthier lifestyle options can collectively make a significant positive impact on health outcomes and reduce the risk of premature death.

  1. Why combine diet and physical activity for longevity?

Combining a nutritious diet with regular physical activity creates a powerful synergy. It manages weight, controls inflammation, supports organ function, and reduces chronic disease risk, maximizing the potential for a longer, healthier life.

Footnotes

  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
  9. Severe health issues
  10. Watching too much TV may increase risk of early death: Three hours a day linked to premature death from any cause
  11. Sugar-sweetened beverages linked with increased risk of premature death from Type 2 diabetes, study flags

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