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The Worst Habits Increasing Your Chances of Premature Death

These habits wreak havoc on your health.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

When it comes to a happy, healthy old age, the habits we build now can make a significant difference in both lifespan and healthspan. "We lose our years of health based on the prevalence of disability," says Linda G.P. Schneider, MD. "For those between the ages of 65 and 74, around 18 percent have at least one disability. Nearly 25 percent of people ages 75 years or older live with some type of disability." Here are five habits shortening your life, according to experts.Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.



no smoking sign

Smoking cigarettes can take up to 12 years off your lifespan, according to research, and one in four heavy smokers die before age 65. "Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in the US," says Tim McAfee, director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We need to do more to educate the American people about these findings. Women now lose about 11 years of life expectancy if they smoke. Men lose about 12 years."


Unhealthy Diet

woman eating pizza in bed
Shutterstock / Doucefleur

Research shows that a healthy diet could add ten years to your lifespan, but an unhealthy diet based on ultra-processed foods is linked to a higher risk of early death from many causes, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. "Food is fundamental for health, and global dietary risk factors are estimated to cause 11 million deaths and 255 million disability-adjusted life years annually," says nutrition researcher Lars Thore Fadnes. "Understanding the health potential of different food groups could enable people to make feasible and significant health gains."


Sedentary Lifestyle

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

Research shows sedentary lifestyles may be associated with twice the risk of premature death compared to people who are active. "Our findings imply that to get the maximum health benefits of physical activity in terms of protection against premature all-cause and cardiovascular death, you need to continue being physically active," says Dr. Trine Moholdt of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway. "You can also reduce your risk by taking up physical activity later in life, even if you have not been active before… The health benefits extend beyond protection against premature death to effects in the body's organs and on cognitive function. Physical activity helps us live longer and better lives."


Bad Sleep

man stressed in bed that he can't sleep

The shorter your sleep, the shorter your lifespan. "In our society, nowadays, people aren't getting enough sleep," says sleep expert Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM. "They put sleep so far down on their priority list because there are so many other things to do — family, personal stuff and work life. These are challenges, but if people understand how important adequate sleep is, and how to sleep better, it makes a huge difference."


Heavy Drinking

refuse alcohol

Heavy drinking has been linked to premature death, experts warn. "For good health, it's best to consistently drink a little less on most occasions, or skip alcohol altogether," say Angela Wood, Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics, University of Cambridge, and Ellie Paige, Research Fellow, Australian National University. "When you do drink, try to space it out over the week, rather than drinking several alcoholic drinks in a day. Drinking less alcohol may not only help lower your risk of several heart conditions, but could help extend your overall health and life."

Ferozan Mast
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. Read more about Ferozan
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