I was sipping my (eighth?) coffee of the day in the hospital break room, when one of my colleagues, a budding surgeon, Josh Boster, asked me if I'd seen a recent JAMA article about "all of us dying earlier." I didn't know what he was talking about. So he sent me a link to an article that predicted, for the first time in hundreds of years, despite billions of dollars invested in insane, expensive, but life-lengthening genetic-modulatory-immuno-data-driven blah-blah-blah, the average lifespan of Americans could potentially level off or actually go DOWN.
The numbers are stark. In 1850, average life expectancy was age 40 for women and age 38 for men. By 1980, these numbers had risen to 78 for women and 71 for men.
Yet the increase has slowed in recent decades, largely thanks to the obesity epidemic and the associated co-morbidities - including heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. While many mathematical models have predicted a continued rise in the lifespan, newer models which factor in this larger and sicker population show that the opposite could happen - we could live shorter lives. In fact, this has already happened in a number of US counties.
This led me to explore what factors might contribute to people "living longer." My research found 5 wacky, weird, and downright spooky factors that might just make you live longer.
1. Have a Heart Attack at Work.
If you're nearing retirement age, you'll probably hate me for telling you this, but retiring before the age of 65 increases your risk of dying from all causes.
A study published this month in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health found that among healthy adults, waiting just ONE YEAR to retire, until age 66, was associated with a nearly 11% lower risk of dying from any cause. Those who retired at age 67 had a 21% lower risk, age 70 a 44% lower risk, and age 72 a nearly 56% lower risk of dying than those who retired at 65.
That means working an extra 7 years made you more than half as likely to die over a 14-year period. Mind blown.
This study included 2,956 adults born between 1931 and 1941 and analyzed the cohort from 1992 onward. This lower risk of death from all causes still was statistically significant, even after controlling for other demographic factors, including education, socioeconomic status, gender, etc.
So keep working. It might just be your secret to eternal life.
2. Cover your sofa with gasoline and light it on fire.
Sitting still may just be ending you life.
A 2011 study by Australian researchers discovered that for every 1 hour - yes, just 1 hour - of TV people watched after age 25 they lost 22-minutes in their overall life expectancy.
So a Netflix binge for 8 hours on a Friday night would lose you about 3 hours of overall life expectancy. And that doesn't even account for the Ben & Jerry's.
Another study that same year by Harvard researchers discovered that for every 2 hours of TV watched, people's risk of dying from any cause increased by 13% over a seven-year period. House of Cards, why do you do this stuff to me?
And sitting in general might just be killing you. Scientists from Louisiana studying a group of 17,000 people over 13 years found that people who sat for their entire work day had a 54% greater chance of dying of a heart attack.
Bring back the yoga ball.
3. Worship Father Google
I'm not talking paganism. I'm talking venture capital.
Whether you know this or not - and my friends didn't know so you probably don't - Google has created a venture capital firm that invests solely in solutions to eternal life. Or at least extending it. Whether that's uploading your brain into a computer or growing new neurons in the brain or finding more genetic therapies for cancer, Google is sure to be spending millions on it.
That's because a lot of health stuff, especially genetics, involves lots of information. For instance, human DNA has roughly 75 MB of data per cell. If you look at those 75 MB for hundreds of thousands of people that's...
Well it's more than I can fit on my iPhone. Beyonce's new album already takes up enough.
To mine all that data, and all the health factors associated with it - the disease people have, their lifespan, socioeconomic/demographic factors - will require huge data analytics software. Google thinks it can do that. It's been built on finding patterns in data.
It seems silly, but as medical charts continue to move to computers, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, and as data analytics firm continue to invest in analyzing health data, like Optum, we could see huge advances in the medical field. Everytime I open the New England Journal of Medicine I see another way technology and healthcare are being integrated.
While meaningful use may have been a failure (that's a teaser for a future post), computers and technology have a lot to teach us in the medical field. Let's continue to conversation.
On the Path to Eternal Life
We're not living forever, but this research shows we're slowly learning the secrets to living longer than ever before. Despite the research Josh showed me, we know at least 3 weird ways to live longer than your peers.
What are your secrets to living longer, healthier, and happier lives? Leave your comments below! I'll add them in a future blog post.
And remember, there's no point in living longer if you're not living a quality life. So make sure to make the minutes matter <3
Internal medicine resident at NYU in New York City with an interest in heme / oncology (cancer care).