Gaining And Losing Minutes Of Life

We are a culture which obsesses about the risks and benefits of just about everything (which in itself is probably a stress risk), particularly when it comes to human health and longevity. And we usually do it badly.

So, at the risk of feeding that obsession, here is some actual science (presented with the help of some very nice graphics):

“I hate when someone tells me that something is risky,” says David Spiegelhalter, a professor of risk assessment at the University of Cambridge. “Well, compared to what?

To answer his own question, Spiegelhalter converted reams of statistical risk tables into a simple metric: a microlife—30 minutes. If you smoke two cigarettes, you lose 30 minutes of your life (top graphic). Exercise for 20 minutes, and you gain two units of microlife. Over time bad habits accelerate your aging, and good habits slow it down (bottom graphic). “That seems to resonate with people,” Spiegelhalter says. “No one likes to get older faster.”

This data caught my roving eye, to no ones surprise, because Spiegelhalter flags red meat and sitting, two topics which I have beaten to death featured (and, yes, I am still standing when I work). I will also be glad to show my wife the data regarding the beneficial effects of 1 serving of alcohol (and even if you have two servings, you make a net gain of 1/2 microlife–funny how I did that math so quickly).

Anyhow, how many microlives are you gaining or losing every day?

More on risk from Spiegelhalter in this TED Talk. It is very useful info to help me achieve my ambition of NOT having the last thought that goes through my mind be: “I am so stupid.”

Sadly, Spiegelhalter doesn’t have great news for cyclists (mostly because drivers are so dangerous, I suspect). But it is a very compelling way of looking at the world, and public policy and personal decisionmaking would be VERY different if we all thought about risk in such an analytical manner.:

Red Meat Mortality

I know it must seem obvious already, but it’s hard to resist posting research that details the impact of red meat consumption on mortality. I always tell my kids that beef is killing the planet. But no one seems to care that much. What people do respond to is research which shows that beef is killing them, so here’s a study report that I’ve had sitting around since March:

Eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease, according to a new study, and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk.

The analysis, published online Monday in Archives of Internal Medicine, used data from two studies that involved 121,342 men and women who filled out questionnaires about health and diet from 1980 through 2006. There were 23,926 deaths in the group, including 5,910 from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer.

People who ate more red meat were less physically active and more likely to smoke and had a higher body mass index, researchers found. Still, after controlling for those and other variables, they found that each daily increase of three ounces of red meat was associated with a 12 percent greater risk of dying over all, including a 16 percent greater risk of cardiovascular death and a 10 percent greater risk of cancer death.

The increased risks linked to processed meat, like bacon, were even greater: 20 percent over all, 21 percent for cardiovascular disease and 16 percent for cancer.

Of course, you can earn all about the ways in which red meat will shorten your life in the excellent documentary “Forks Over Knives.”

And you can watch CNN’s Sanjay Gupta (with an assist from Bill Clinton) make the case here.