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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Calculating Longevity

"Unhealthy behaviours place a major burden on Canadian life expectancies."
"This study [research study in general population lifestyle habits] identified which behaviours pose the biggest threat."
"In an era of big data, we should be moving beyond the old methods [of measuring life expectancy] that have remained largely unchanged for the past 60 years." 
"Fitbits don't tell you when you are going to die."
Dr. Doug Manuel, senior scientist, The Ottawa Hospital
The Ottawa Hospital study found that smoking is the leading cause of premature death for men.
The Ottawa Hospital study found that smoking is the leading cause of premature death for men. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Dr. Manuel, a professor at the University of Ottawa, was the lead researcher in the study recently published in the journal PLOS Medicine. The conclusion reached by the researchers is that lifestyle becomes a fairly reliable predictor of life expectancy. Lifestyle habits that are generally harmful to health are quite obviously harmful to longevity. If we abuse our bodies, our minds and our physical beings suffer the consequences.

That we are responsible for our own state of health is not new, but it is a responsibility that all too many people don't take seriously for obvious enough reasons; too intrusive on our search for instant gratification, too onerous to embark on a healthy lifestyle since it's too constricting of our desires to do as we wish, and impacts both spontaneity and gratification, so who needs it? Well ... we do ... if we intend to live a life that isn't too short and too encumbered with impaired health.

Health Obesity Report 20121023
Avoid junk food - it can shorten your life, according to Ottawa Hospital study. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

We insist on eating whatever appeals to us most and takes the least time to think about, let alone prepare. And if we choose not to devote time to the tedious tasks of actually preparing whole foods in our own kitchen, then we decide to 'eat out', and the most popular destination of most people is to grab something that tastes good, is reasonably priced and readily available. Fast food steps into the picture ... and at home, convenience foods.

We have a tendency to loaf and to sit around, since there's plenty to do just sitting around in our leisure time. There are our interests in computers, in online gaming, in watching television, the kind of spectator sport that appeals to people from childhood well into adulthood and beyond. It's a nuisance to get up and move around, other than into the kitchen to retrieve some edibles stored there and take them back to nibble, watching television. These habits have their costs, and we bear them.

Weather Feature 20110728 TOPIX woman park jogging
Regular exercise is a contributor to longer life expectancy, according to study by the Ottawa Hospital. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)
In fact, living in Canada, we all bear them. With the universal health care system, the healthy pay for the ill, since taxation supports the hospitals we all use, and the doctors' fees and the pharmaceuticals dispensed by hospitals and through a provincial drug formulary supporting drugs for the elderly and those on income support and welfare.
The study found that of all deaths:
  • 26 per cent are attributable to smoking.
  • 24 per cent are attributable to physical inactivity.
  • 12 per cent are attributable to poor diet.
  • 0.4 per cent are attributable to unhealthy alcohol consumption.

Dr. Manuel as a senior core scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluation Sciences, emphasizes that the results of the study reveals beyond one shred of doubt how and why unhealthy habits tend to contribute to the death of those who practise them. While smoking rates have dropped in Canada, thanks to the unavoidable knowledge well proven by science that tobacco is a carcinogen and the cause of most deadly lung cancers, it has reached a stable point where dedicated smokers continue to defy the odds of survival.

Canadians who are non-smokers tend to have healthier diets, are more likely to be physically active and tend not to drink in excess. The result is they have life expectancies 17.9 years greater than their peers with the unhealthiest lifestyle habituation. The study revealed that the greatest predictor of smoking-related reduced longevity impacted more men than women, leaving them with a longevity deficit of 3.1 years. Lack of adequate physical activity impacted women more, for a loss of 3 years.

In yet another effort to convince people that poor lifestyle choices and particularly lack of physical activity, is deleterious to health and life itself, Dr. Manuel and his colleagues designed an algorithm capable of analyzing data gleaned from Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey, and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences. It helped their formulation, that Canada has some of the best health care data in the world.

That available data created the perfect opportunity for Dr. Manuel and his health team to conduct their research. But he and they have the vision that what they have discovered based on their research will be of use elsewhere in the world, particularly in countries with similar population health surveys. The algorithm that the team produced results in a more exacting measurement of the impact of health problems on life expectancy.

As a result, an online calculator has been made available to help people reach an estimate of their own life expectancy, the calculations based on their habits and lifestyle choices. The calculator is available for use by the general public at 

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