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Everyday Ways You're Shortening Your Life

These habits don't turn back the clock. They may stop it prematurely.

Last month, a shocking new study that found American life expectancy declined 1.5 years in 2020, largely due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—the biggest drop in U.S. life expectancy since World War II. But don't take these statistics (gathered before the widespread availability of COVID vaccines) as evidence that your life is out of your hands. In fact, a study published in the journal BMJ Open in 2020 found there are four everyday habits and factors that can shave years off a person's life. They're easy to avoid. Read on to find out more, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You Have "Long" COVID and May Not Even Know It.


You're Smoking

stop smoking

The study, conducted by Finnish researchers, involved health data collected from men and women between 25 and 74, from 1987 to 2007; the subjects were tracked until 2014. 

The scientists found the biggest reduction in life expectancy for a 30-year-old man was smoking, which shortened life by an average of 6.6 years. For a 30-year-old woman, smoking shortened life by 5.5 years.

One other surprising factor nearly tied smoking as the biggest time thief. Read on to find out what it is.


You Have Type 2 Diabetes

The scientists found that diabetes took 6.5 years off the life of a 30-year-old man, and 5.3 years from the life of a woman of equivalent age. This is not exactly news: "Type 2 diabetes has been found to increase all-cause mortality 1.85-fold," the researchers noted, citing previous studies. 

In particular, diabetes raises your risk of heart disease and stroke. In 2020, diabetes killed three times as many people as COVID-19. Physical inactivity, obesity and a poor diet high in added sugar and processed foods are three of the major risk factors for type 2 diabetes.


You're Under Heavy Stress

tired businessman with eyeglasses and laptop computer rubbing eyes at office

Being under heavy stress shortened men's lives 2.8 years and women's 2.3 years. "Having some stress, but no more than what is usual was associated with lower hazard [of premature death] than when feeling life almost unbearable," the scientists noted. Stress seems to cause an inflammatory response in the body, which may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer and even shrink the brain: A 2018 study published in the journal Neurology found that people who lead high-stress lives may experience brain shrinkage and memory loss even before they turn 50.

RELATED: The #1 Cause of Obesity


You're Not Getting Enough Exercise

man with remote control

You probably knew this one was coming: The researchers found that being physically inactive shaved 2.4 years off the life of an average 30-year-old man. "Vigorous physical activity has been found to decrease the risk of death by 22% compared with no physical activity," said the scientists about previous findings. "An increase in physical activity can reduce weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, which are all associated with a lower hazard of death."

RELATED: 9 Everyday Habits That Might Lead to Dementia


The Good News

Older woman in kitchen

Besides exercise, the researchers found that some healthy habits can measurably lengthen your life, specifically eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Regularly eating fruit was associated with 1.4 more years of life expectancy and eating vegetables by 0.9 years. Now to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss these 13 Everyday Habits That Are Secretly Killing You.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael
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