Proactively Adjusting Your Own Mortality Risk

Much as none of us like to think about it, we all have an ongoing, changing mortality risk - the flip side of the statistics of life expectancy at any given age. This largely involves cars in younger years, but then goes on to be dominated by the unpleasant and varied consequences of aging to death. I have no sage advice when it comes to cars, but I can point out the science that backs up the idea that we have a modest degree of control over our risk of death at any given age, and hence over our life expectancy.

There are three line items here:

I don't expect to see significant additions to this list become widely available for another twenty years or so. Aside from the fact that we can do a great deal to speed up the advent of ways to repair the cellular and molecular damage of aging - which is a very big deal - the healthy person interested in putting a thumb on the scales of mortality risk is presently stuck with much the same narrow array of methods as our immediate ancestors. There's an anti-aging marketplace shouting loudly that they have plenty of new things to try, but their marketing folk are largely lying through their teeth, hyping things with no scientific basis, or selling goods that have statistically negligible effects in comparison to exercise and calorie restriction.

But so it goes - there are always people who want answers now, and never mind whether they are the right answers, and so there will always be other people selling immediate answers. Fools and their money, and so forth.

By way of following on from yesterday's post on exercise, mortality, and medical costs, I thought I'd point out a couple of other recent items that clearly point to the obvious ways in which the vast majority of us can adjust our own life expectancy.

Early mortality risk reduced up to 40 percent through increased physical activity and sports:

The researchers identified about 7,000 potentially relevant reports, of which a total of 80 cohort studies with more than 1.3 million study participants from Europe, Canada, United States, and Asia fulfilled the strict inclusion criteria. At study onset participants had to be free of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic conditions. Study participants were followed up by a median of 11 years. 'The results of the included studies were combined and controlled for other potential influential factors, e.g. cigarette smoking, alcohol uptake, body mass index, blood pressure, nutrition, education and social factors,' explained Guenther Samitz.


For light- to moderate intensity activities of daily living, e.g. housework, gardening, stair climbing, walking and bicycling for transportation, an increase of one hour per week compared to no physical activity was associated with a reduction in mortality of four percent. Dr. Samitz said that with moderate-intensity leisure activities (e.g. Nordic walking, hiking, social dance) the risk reduction increased to six percent, and with vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or sports (e.g. jogging, bicycling (>10 miles per hour), tennis, ball sport), the reduction in all-cause mortality was even nine percent per one hour increment per week. Meeting the WHO´s recommended level of 150 minutes per week of moderate physical activity of daily life or during leisure was associated with a reduction in mortality risk by ten percent. For vigorous exercise and sports the reduction in mortality risk was more than twofold higher (22 %).

High to moderate levels of stress lead to a higher mortality rate:

A new study concludes that men who experience persistently moderate or high levels of stressful life events over a number of years have a 50 percent higher mortality rate. ... This is the first study to show a direct link between stress trajectories and mortality in an aging population. Unlike previous studies that were conducted in a relatively short term with smaller sample sizes, this study was modified to document major stressors - such as death of a spouse or a putting a parent into a retirement home - that specifically affect middle-aged and older people.

You might look back in the Fight Aging! archives for more on the material links between psychological stress and biomarkers of health, such as telomere length in immune cells.


Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.