Lifestyle factors like heavy stress may predict how long we live


Life expectancy is influenced not only by traditional lifestyle-related risk factors but also by factors related to a person's quality of life, such as heavy stress, according to a new study published in the journal BMJ Open.

Researchers from the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, Finland calculated the effects of multiple risk factors, including lifestyle-related ones, to the life expectancy of men and women. The study was based on data collected from men and women aged 25 to 74 in the Finnish National FINRISK Study 1987-2007 through questionnaires and measurements. The rate of mortality was followed until the end of 2014.

The researchers calculated the life expectancies by changing the values of each risk factor at a time and keeping the values of other factors constant. Only the BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels could be changed when the values related to lifestyle factors were changed.

The study found the biggest causes for shortened life expectancy for 30-year-old men are smoking and diabetes. Smoking takes 6.6 years and diabetes 6.5 years out of their life expectancy. Being under heavy stress shortens their life expectancy by 2.8 years.

The results also revealed that a lack of exercise reduced the life expectancy of 30-year-old men by 2.4 years. On the other hand, things such as the consumption of plenty of fruits and vegetables could increase life expectancy, eating fruit by 1.4 years and eating vegetables by 0.9 years, the study said.

The same factors impacted the life expectancy of both men and women. For 30-year-old women, smoking shortened the life expectancy by 5.5 years, diabetes by 5.3 years, and heavy stress by 2.3 years. The effects to the life expectancy of older people were similar but smaller than in younger age groups.

The golden middle seemed to have the most positive effect in some factors related to lifestyle. The experience of stress increased the life expectancy if the person felt the amount of stress they had was approximately the same as what other people typically experienced. Having more or less stress than that, on the other hand, reduced their life expectancy, the researchers said.

In the study, the differences in the life expectancies of people with different levels of education were small when the other risk factor values were the same. However, earlier studies have discovered large differences between the life expectancies of groups of people with different levels of education.

The lifestyle choices that increase mortality, such as smoking, heavy alcohol use, unhealthy diet, and lack of exercise, are most common in the population groups whose social position is the weakest. The life expectancy of the whole population could be improved significantly through helping men and people with a lower level of education make better lifestyle choices, the researchers said.