How that extra mince pie or tot of brandy could take years off your life

How that extra mince pie or tot of brandy could take years off your life
Smoking, eating red meat and watching TV can each
knock at least 30 minutes off your life expectancy for every day you
indulgeBut you could claw back time by sticking to just one alcoholic drink and eating plenty of fruit and veg

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UPDATED:

23:30 GMT, 17 December 2012

Every over-indulgence can reduce your life expectancy by at least half an hour, say Cambridge scientists

Every over-indulgence can reduce your life expectancy by at least half an hour, say Cambridge scientists

Having that extra mince pie, seconds of roast turkey or an extra tipple takes hours off your life, new research suggests.

Although Christmas is a time to eat, drink and be merry, each day of over-indulgence can reduce your life expectancy by at least half an hour.

Indeed, smoking, having a couple of drinks, eating red meat and watching television at any time of the year can each knock at least 30 minutes off your life expectancy for every day you indulge.

But by taking things in moderation each day by sticking to just one alcoholic drink, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, and exercising, you could claw two hours back.

Professor David Spiegelhalter a statistician at the University of Cambridge, set out to find a simple way of communicating the impact of our behaviours on expected length of life, so we can make an informed choice.

He used the concept of ageing faster or slower, by expressing the daily effect of lifestyle habits as 'microlives', worth half hours of life expectancy.

A half hour of adult life expectancy can be termed a microlife as it is loosely equivalent to one millionth of life after age 35, he says.

Using data from population studies he calculated that, averaged over a lifetime habit, a microlife can be 'lost' from smoking two cigarettes, being 5 kg overweight, having a second or third alcoholic drink of the day, watching two hours of television, or eating a burger.

On the other hand, microlives can be 'gained' by sticking to just one alcoholic drink a day, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising, and taking statins.

But the damage may be partly undone by sticking to just one alcoholic drink a day, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising and taking statins

But the damage may be partly undone by sticking to just one alcoholic drink a day, eating fresh fruit and vegetables, exercising and taking statins

He said his concept allowed the general public to a make rough, but fair comparisons between the sizes of chronic risks based on a metaphor of 'speed of ageing'.

Gender and nationality also determine how long we will live, he added.

Women gain four microlives a day over men, while Swedish men gain 21 a day over their Russian counterparts. Those who live in 2010 rather than 1910 gain 15 a day.

Professor Spiegelhalter pointed out the assessments are very approximate and based on numerous assumptions, but added they 'bring long-term effects into the present and help counter temporal discounting, in which future events are considered of diminishing importance'.

In spite of the limitations, he concludes that 'a reasonable idea of the comparative absolute risks associated with chronic exposures can be vividly communicated in terms of the speed at which one is living one’s life'.

'Of course, evaluation studies would be needed to quantify any effect on behaviour, but one does not need a study to conclude that people do not generally like the idea of getting older faster.'

The findings are published in the British Medical Journal.