Calculating the Effects of Lifestyle on Lifespan

Sure, a healthy lifestyle will probably increase your chances of living longer, but did you ever wonder just how much longer? As it turns out, this is a difficult question to answer. Think about it: It’s not like scientists could round up several thousand people and assign some of them to healthy lifestyles like clean eating and no smoking, others to junk food and Marlboros, and then follow them for a century to see how long they live… right?

But Isn’t It an Important Question?
You bet. That’s why scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany set out to answer it using big data, statistics, and computer modeling. They analyzed data from more than 14,000 people enrolled in a U.S. study that’s been going on since 1992, and they calculated the effects of different lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking, and being overweight (or not). Their main finding, published last week in the journal Health Affairs, was that people who avoided smoking, drinking, and being overweight lived an average of seven years longer than those who did not.

Big Deal?
Although seven years may not sound like much, remember that this is an average (some people would live much longer). Also, if you take a second to think about what you’ve done in the last seven years, chances are it will start feeling like a lot more. And now that you’ve done that, if you’re interested in other factors that might increase your longevity, take a look at our other posts on the topic.

Tom LaRocca

Tom LaRocca, Ph.D., is a research associate and instructor in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder.