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Getting Old: 7 Things That Can Shorten Our Lives

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SMOKING SHORTENING LIFE
12 things that shorten your life | Shutterstock

By Annie Hauser, Everyday Health

Want to look 10 years into the future, and see how your health is holding up? Thanks to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, you now can. They developed a checklist, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which fairly accurately predicts a senior's chance of surviving another decade, providing a unique opportunity for patients and physicians to work together to lessen key health risk factors and improve seniors' quality of life, they say.

The UCSF analysis used a nationally representative cohort of U.S. adults over age 50. Point values were assigned to each factor in the mortality index (the higher the points, the worse the risk). A risk score was then calculated for each participant based on their self-reported health indicators. In the end, there was a dramatic difference: Participants with no risk factors had a 2.8 per cent chance of dying over 10 years, while those with the most risks had a 96 per cent chance of dying.

Although a single health risk factor isn't enough to predict longevity, researchers caution, a host of attributes taken together can say something powerful about your future health. See how your risk factors stack up.

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Your Age And Gender
Not surprisingly, researchers found that the older you are, the greater your 10-year mortality risk. (The oldest group in the study were people over 85.) Because women continue to live an average of seven years longer than men, being male added two points to participants' assessments, while being female added no points.

Current Use Of Tobacco
Participants who currently smoke or use other tobacco products added two points to their assessments. But the good news is it's never too late to quit smoking for your health — particularly if you're in the just-above-50 age bracket. In fact, just 8 hours after your last cigarette the levels of carbon monoxide and oxygen in your bloodstream return to normal. After just a few days, your chance of a heart attack has already decreased. After 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease becomes comparable to that of someone who has never smoked a cigarette.

Body Mass Index
A body mass index (BMI) greater than 25 indicates that you're overweight, though not necessarily obese. An overweight BMI ups your chances of dying over a 10-year period by one point, researchers say. Although BMI, which is a ratio of your height and weight, is considered an imperfect measure, it has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more, so staying within a healthy BMI range is important for overall health.

Presence Of Diabetes Or Heart Failure
In the assessment, those with any type of diabetes added one point to their total score while the presence of heart failure added two points. The conditions together net three points to a patient's total. Because people with type 2 diabetes have double the risk of cardiovascular disease, twice the risk of a second heart attack, and twice the risk of dying after a heart attack, people with type 2 diabetes are likely to have both of these risk factors.

Heart failure is linked to a host of other debilitating conditions, including dementia, osteoporosis, and blood clots.

Presence Of A Nonskin Cancer Or Lung Disease
Cancer of all kinds is the second-leading cause of death in the United States, behind heart disease. Chronic lung diseases, such as COPD, are third — beating out stroke for the first time in 2011. Out of all cancers, lung cancer is the most deadly in terms of the sheer number of North Americans it kills.

It's no wonder, then, that the presence of a nonskin cancer or any type of lung disease added two points each to participants' assessments in the longevity index.

Your Finances
When older people have a hard time managing their money, it could signal mild cognitive impairment, which doubles the risk of death in seniors, a previous study presented at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Vancouver found last year. Trouble planning or organizing and poor judgement also signal mild cognitive impairment, researchers found, indicating that detecting and monitoring cognitive impairment as early as possible could prolong life, researchers said at the conference.

Difficulty Bathing, Walking, Or Pushing And Pulling Objects
This set of three physical activities: bathing, walking, and pushing or pulling objects, were all independently measured in the UCSF assessment, and all independently contributed to participants' death risk. This latest data is far from the first study to correlate physical ability with longevity — for example, one recent study found that the ability to sit and rise from the floor with one hand or no hands was closely correlated with a lower risk of death from any cause.

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