By Jason Koebler, US News & World Report
Every so often, a scientific report will come out that warns of the life-shortening dangers of smoking, eating red meat, sitting too long, or of drinking too much alcohol. But until now, no researchers have tried to quantify the day-to-day hazards of bad habits.
British statistician David Spiegelhalter, in a report published recently in British Medical Journal, attempts to quantify which habits have a greater impact on life expectancy: Is drinking heavily worse than living a sedentary lifestyle?
To do this, he created a unit of measure called a "microlife," which corresponds to 30 minutes of life expectancy. Using other studies, he determined that for each day of heavy smoking, a person could be shaving about five hours off his life; someone who watches TV for two hours a day loses about 30 minutes for each day they take part in that activity.
"I'm taking lifelong habits and looking at how they affect people on average, convert it to a daily rate," Spiegelhalter says. "The whole idea is to make a comparison about healthy activities and bad activities. Crudely, drinking two cups of coffee will cancel out eating a burger."
Spiegelhalter says when people hear about life expectancy studies, they assume they'll lose a couple years off the end of their lives. Instead, he says, they should consider it as "aging faster" — a smoker could be hurtling faster towards lung cancer, for instance, than a nonsmoker.
"If you're a smoker, it's like you're moving at your death as if you were living 29 hours a day, it's accelerated aging," he says. "It's a bit of a metaphor — you're getting older quicker rather than living just a bit less."
Here's how different habits stack up, according to Spiegelhalter (estimates are based on various life expectancy studies and hours gained or lost are per day of exposure)
Smoking (15-24 cigarettes per day): -five hoursAlcohol Drinking: First drink, + 30 minutes; -15 minutes per subsequent drink per daySedentary behavior: -30 minutes per two hours of TV watchingEating red meat: -30 minutes per three ounces of red meat consumedFruit & vegetables: five servings per day: +two hoursExercise: +one hour for first 20 minutes, +30 minutes for every additional 40 minutes.
From the National Diabetes Education ProgramJanuary is the start of a new year and a time when many people make New Year’s resolutions to be healthier. Maintaining a healthy weight and staying active can help prevent a number of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes. Small changes – such as losing a small amount of weight and becoming more active – can go a long way toward improving your health. But even if you know what do, figuring out howto do it and fitting it into your daily routine can be a challenge.Change begins with just one step. This New Year, make your resolution stick by taking the first step toward a healthier life. The NDEP’s Just One Steptool will help you take the first of many small steps that can lead to big rewards. The tool will help you think about: what step you will take to help reach your goal (for example, walking), when and how often you will do it (for example, go walking on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday during the lunch hour), and how much time you will put into your step (for example, walk 15 minutes each day to start). Once you have taken the first few steps, the NDEP can help you make a plan to help you reach your health goal:
1. Think about what is important to you and your health. What are you willing and able to do?2. Decide what your goals are. Choose one goal to work on first.3. Decide what steps will help you reach your goal.4. Pick one step to try this week.The key to reaching your health goals – and keeping your resolutions all year long – is to set a goal and make a step by step plan. Resolve to make the first step at http://www.yourdiabetesinfo.org/JustOneStep, then check outhttp://www.yourdiabetesinfo.org/MakeAPlan. For help to change habits and to lose weight, check out the Weight-control Information Network’s (’s) “Changing Your Habits: Steps to Better Health” fact sheet.The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program is jointly sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the support of more than 200 partner organizations.
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