Although the holiday season is all about eating, drinking, and celebrating with loved ones, each day of over-indulging can cut many hours off a person’s life.

The finding came from a study conducted by Professor David Spiegelhalter, statistician at the University of Cambridge, and was published in the British Medical Journal.

Since the holidays are the time when people tend to over-indulge, they need to keep in mind that thirty minutes or more can be cut off their life expectancy for each day that they smoke, have a few drinks, eat red meat, and even watch television.

On the other hand, two hours can be added to their life for each day that they eat plenty of fruits and veggies, exercise, and have just one alcoholic beverage.

Professor Spiegelhalter aimed to help people understand how the way they behave can affect their life expectancy by explaining it in a simple way.

He recommended using the notion of aging quicker or slower, and that people should consider the daily impact of lifestyle habits as “microlives” – half hours of expected length of life. Since a microlife is almost equal to one millionth of life after a person is 35, a half hour of adult life expectancy can be referred as this term.

The professor gathered and analyzed data from population studies and found that, “averaged over a lifetime habit”, a person can lose a microlife by:

  • being 5kg overweight
  • smoking two cigarettes
  • eating a burger
  • having 2 or 3 alcoholic drinks
  • watching 2 hours of TV

However, a person can add microlives to their life expectancy by:

  • having no more than one alcoholic beverage a day
  • exercising
  • taking statins
  • eating fruits and veggies

Microlives can also be used when talking about demographic factors as well, for instance, being a woman rather than a man is a gain of 4 microlives a day, being alive in 2010 instead of 1910 adds 15 a day, and being a Swedish male rather than a Russian male adds 21 a day.

This simple way of explaining how daily habits affect a person’s length of life helps all readers roughly compare between the sizes of persistent risks. Professor Spiegelhalter explained that it is based on “speed of aging”, a metaphor which has been successful in helping people quit smoking.

“So each day of smoking 20 cigarettes (10 microlives) is as if you are rushing towards your death at 29 hours rather than 24.” Professor Spiegelhalter said.

He added that the study had many limitations and emphasizes that these evaluations are estimated and came from several suppositions. Nevertheless, he said that they “bring long term effects into the present and help counter temporal discounting, in which future events are considered of diminishing importance.”

Regardless of the limitations, he believes that “a reasonable idea of the comparative absolute risks associated with chronic exposures can be vividly communicated in terms of the speed at which one is living one’s life.”

Professor Spiegelhalter concluded:

“Of course, evaluation studies would be needed to quantify any effect on behavior, but one does not need a study to conclude that people do not generally like the idea of getting older faster.”

Written by Sarah Glynn