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Eat, Drink? Don't Be So Merry

Each day of a typical holiday diet of booze, TV and red meat will cut at least 30 minutes off your lifespan, researchers say.

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By Valerie Tejeda

12/19/12

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Partying hard this holiday season? You may want to slow down: for every day of holiday overindulgence, you lose at least 30 minutes of your life, researchers estimate. Too much TV, alcohol, red meat and smoking are all responsible for shortening lifespans—and the holidays see an increase in all of those activities. A new study published in the British Medical Journal attempts to illustrate the impact. Lead researcher David Spiegelhalter, Professor of Biostatistics at Cambridge University, England, explains habits like this in terms of "microlives"—30-minute periods of life expectancy. Using a wealth of stats and previous studies, he calculated that one microlife is lost when a lifelong smoker smokes two cigarettes, for example. Activities like drinking a second or third alcoholic drink in one day, watching large amounts of television, or eating fatty foods also shorten your expected lifespan. In contract, time spent exercising, eating healthily, and having just a single alcoholic drink in one day—but not a drop more—add to your life expectancy. (Factors like being female or being born in a healthy country like Sweden also help—but are unfortunately less voluntary.) Spiegelhalter acknowledges that his calculations aren't an exact science and don't apply to everyone, as they don't take into account genetics and other lifestyle factors. But he hopes his research will encourage people to look at how their choices today impact their future prospects. "[The assessments] bring long-term effects into the present and help counter temporal discounting, in which future events are considered of diminishing importance," he says.

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