TIME Research

6 Things That Determine How Long You’ll Live

Sleeping and sitting may be more influential than previously realized

Researchers have developed a new lifestyle score that determines your risk for death, based on your bad habits.

A bit morbid perhaps, but lifestyle behaviors are responsible for a wide-range of preventable diseases from cancer to heart disease. Now, Australian researchers argue growing evidence suggests some other previously unconsidered risk factors like sitting for a long periods of time should be included when estimating a person’s mortality risk. By pulling six risk factors together into one index, the researchers argue they provide clinically relevant information about a person’s health, and what combination of red flags are especially concerning.

In the new study published in the journal PLOS Medicine, researchers looked a group of 231,048 Australian adults age 45 and up who were followed for six years.

The researchers then scored the participants on six behavior measures: smoking, alcohol use, dietary behavior, physical inactivity, sedentary behavior, and sleep.

When added together, they found that the people who had higher scores in these combined measures had a higher risk of death.

The researchers used the measurement “person-years lost,” which is the number of years lost due to a person in the study dying before the study ended. Based on their findings, the researchers calculated that if none of the men and women had any of the risk factors, a third of the person-years lost from death would have been avoided.

Interestingly, short sleep duration had less of an effect on mortality risk than sleeping for a long time. Why that’s the case remains unknown, but the study authors write that it’s possible that long sleep duration indicates underlying disease, fatigue or depression. On its own, sitting for a long time had a small effect on all-cause mortality, but the researchers found that the combination of long bouts of sitting and a lack of exercise had a stronger effect. “This might indicate that prolonged sitting tends to be particularly harmful among those who are physically inactive,” the authors write.

To me, both [sedentary behavior and sleep] are very important,” says study author Ding Ding, a senior research fellow at The University of Sydney. “Both are closely linked to our overall lifestyle, are likely to interact with other lifestyle behaviors, and together they represent the majority of our daily life.”

The good news is that by understanding how these different behaviors impact our ability to have a long life, we can make modifications for better health.

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