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Totally Surprising Things That Affect Your Lifespan, According to Science

There's more to extending your life than eating a good diet and choosing not to smoke.
FACT CHECKED BY William Mayle
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A few years ago, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health released a study anointing the top five healthy habits associated with a longer life. As far as health tips go, we have to say: There isn't a ton on the list that will surprise you. It includes a healthy diet, regular exercise, no smoking, avoiding excess alcohol, and maintaining a healthy body weight.

But is living longer really all that simple? Should you just invest in a treadmill, avoid too much wine with dinner, and keep your fast food cravings at bay, and you'll then enjoy a longer, healthier, and fruitful life? Perhaps. But the truth is, there are a ton of activities, hobbies, and behaviors out there that secretly influence your life expectancy, and many of them will leave you totally surprised. Curious to know more? Read on for some unlikely things that could potentially affect your time on this planet, for better or worse. And for some great ways to boost your longevity, see these 65 Amazing Habits Linked to a Longer Life.

1

Flossing your teeth.

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If you need some extra motivation to break out the dental floss, remember that flossing regularly has been shown to promote a longer lifespan, as studies have shown that forgoing flossing puts you at an increased risk of gum disease and tooth loss.

What does that have to do with longevity? Well, believe it or not, gum disease has been linked to a number of far more life-threatening conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and kidney failure. One study, published in the Journal of Aging Research, concluded that never flossing raises one's mortality risk by a full 30% compared to daily flossing.

2

Becoming a parent.

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Given all the sleep loss and the stress associated with raising children, you'd be forgiven for thinking that becoming a parent would abbreviate your life. Wrong. In fact, one recent research project reports that by age 60, fathers have a two-year (and mothers have 1.5 year) life expectancy advantage over childless couples. Consider it an added boost that parents will have the luxury of relying on their children for support and care in advanced age.

3

An overactive mind.

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This is another especially surprising one. It's been shown time and time again that keeping one's mind active and engaged as much as possible is a great way to stay sharp and promote overall longevity. Curiously, another Harvard study published in the scientific journal Nature found that "excessive neural activity" in the brain is linked to a shorter expected lifespan. The same research also states that suppressing or quieting that extra neural activity can help undo this effect.

Those findings were ultimately preliminary, but still provide some food for thought. It's hard to argue that keeping the mind moving in old age isn't advantageous, but this study just goes to show there's a happy medium somewhere in between. If an individual's thoughts are bouncing around their head constantly in an aggressive fashion, it isn't an ideal situation.

4

Reading

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Reading isn't nearly as common a hobby as it used to be, and is there any wonder why? We all have so many entertainment options at any given moment—streaming services, podcasts, video games. Reading a good old-fashioned book may not be as exciting as the Snyder cut for many, but it could add a few years to your life.

This 2016 Yale study compared the health outcomes of habitual book readers with other non-readers. The reading group showed an astounding 20% reduction in mortality risk over a 12-year period.

5

Constant urban living

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World class dining, museums, art, and a thriving nightlife—there is a whole lot to like about living in a city. But if you're a city dweller, it would behoove you to carve out at least a few weekends to spend in a rural environment. The well-documented dangers of smog, long-term exposure to "urban noise pollution" is now linked to a shortened lifespan. One study from just two years ago reports living in a noisy urban area may increase the risk of a serious stroke. More recently, a new study found that women who live in noisier environments may have double the risk of early death. For more on that, read about The Sleep Habit That Doubles the Risk of Early Death in Women.

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more