When doctors talk factors that increase your mortality (death) risk, they tend to look first at cut-and-dry clinical factors.
Such as your weight…your blood pressure…or family history of certain diseases.
But a group of U.S. scientists recently took a more holistic approach.
In doing so, they found a list of lifestyle factors that are linked to an increased mortality risk. The good news is, they also found two factors that can be minimized (or eliminated altogether)!
Let’s jump right in…
Address these key lifestyle factors
For this study, researchers looked at the role 57 different lifestyle factors had on lifespan in more than 13,000 adults living in the U.S.
- Some of the factors related to socio-economic issues—such as having a history of renting or using food stamps.
- Some factors related to lifestyle and behavior—such as how much sleep a person regularly gets or if they ever smoked.
- Some factors related to personality—such as a person’s openness to new experiences.
Well, it turns out, some of these subtle factors did seem to increase a person’s risk of dying. The nine with the strongest links were:
- Recent financial difficulties
- History of unemployment
- History of food stamp use
- History of divorce
- Never being married
- Lower life satisfaction
- Negative affectivity (when someone tends to see and feel more negative about life)
- History of smoking
- History of alcohol abuse
Most of these findings make a lot of sense…
For example, the first three findings all relate to financial troubles, which tends to increase stress. And, as I often report, stress is the No. 1 hidden cause of many chronic conditions—including heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
The next four factors—divorce, marital status, life satisfaction, and negativity—relate to how a person lives their life. And, for instance, a good, supportive marriage provides companionship and social engagement, which we know positively affects health. Married people even seem to take better care of themselves physically by exercising more and eating better.
Of course, it also makes sense that a negative attitude would harm health and longevity through the powerful mind-body connection.
Now, when it comes to the last two factors on the list—a history of smoking and alcohol abuse—I have a few thoughts to add…
These two factors don’t always spell danger
It’s not surprising that smoking made the list of mortality risk factors. The problem is—the researchers didn’t talk about dose. And that’s unfortunate.
Because as you’ll recall, back in the 1980s, my own research with the National Cancer Institute found NO association between higher mortality rate and smoking less than a half a pack of cigarettes per day ( or one cigar per day).
Furthermore, people who smoked less than that amount had a healthier weight compared to non-smokers.
So, while heavy smoking will likely increase your risk of dying…light, occasional smoking isn’t as harmful.
We should also take a more nuanced approach when talking about alcohol consumption, because here again, dose matters…
As I’ve explained before, studies show that moderate drinkers live longer, with fewer diseases than both alcohol abusers and teetotalers. When we put alcohol consumption and disease and death on a graph, we’ll see a well-known “J-shaped” curve. One axis of the graph shows disease and death rates. The other axis shows the range of drinkers—from teetotalers all the way up to heavy drinkers.
Those at the highest end of alcohol abuse are markedly less healthy with higher mortality rates. But those at the lowest end who abstain from alcohol also have higher disease and mortality rates.
The moderate drinkers in the middle, however, have the best health and lowest mortality rate. So, the goal is to enjoy drinking in moderation, as we know it dramatically improves health and longevity.
So, there you have it. Smoking and drinking are two modifiable lifestyle factors that relate to dose and longevity. For some other simple and surprising tips for IMPROVING your longevity, I also encourage you to look back at last week’s Daily Dispatch articles.