To prevent an early death, you already know you should stay away from tobacco and try to limit the cupcakes. Even if you’ve never smoked or binge-ate, you are at least aware that they are habits that can shave years off of your life. Your doctor, your mom, and a bunch of public service television commercials have all made that explicitly clear. And you probably won’t be super surprised to hear that there are other habits that can take years off of your life, too — you know, like binge-watching Netflix (or, uh, watching public service commercials?).
Some of these, though, are habits that your doctor, your mom, and the people who wrote the scripts for those commercials neglected to warn you about, maybe because they are just as oblivious to the dangers as you are. In fact, after you’ve gotten through this list you might be tempted to give up a few more habits. Here’s a look at just a few of the things you’re probably doing that can send you into an early grave. You’re welcome.
You’re more likely to die early if you do a lot of sitting
Yes, sitting around in front of the TV can shave years off of your life, but the TV is really only a small part of the picture. It’s actually the "sitting around" part that’s the real problem. Researched published in the BMJ Open found "cutting daily sitting time to under 3 hours might extend life by 2 years while "watching TV for less than 2 hours a day might add extra 1.4 years." This is a big deal because most Americans actually sit a whopping 10 hours each day.
Yes, it’s not just the couch potato-type of sitting that qualifies you for an early death, it’s all the sitting you do. This include the eight or so hours you sit at your desk every day. And the time you spend reading the news in the morning, and the time you spend sitting outside of Starbucks with your grande nonfat mocha and the blueberry scone (that also might kill you one day) and, well, you get the point.
Not sleeping enough or sleeping too much can lead to an early death
If you aren’t getting at least five hours of sleep every single night, well, listen up. The research shows that those who don’t get this amount of shut-eye will die sooner than the people who make sure to get the recommended amount of sleep each night.
Now, don’t panic and try to overcompensate for all the sleep you’ve been missing out on since you were a toddler — because sleeping too much also has its risks. According to Harvard Medical School’s Healthy Sleep, fewer than five hours is a no-no while more than nine hours is also not great. The former might increase your risk of developing diabetes or coronary heart disease while the latter might also increase your risk of developing coronary heart disease. We hope knowing this doesn’t make it too hard for you to fall asleep tonight.
You’re more likely to die early if you eat too much red meat and/or processed meat
Beef may be what’s for dinner tonight, but if it’s what’s for dinner every single night you might as well start planning your funeral right now. Okay, that might be a tad hasty, but according to Harvard Men’s Health Watch, every time you add another serving of red meat to your day you increase your risk of death by about 13 percent. But don’t take this a reason to switch to pork sausage or turkey cold cuts or something of the like, because processed meat is actually just as bad for you as unprocessed red meat.
Substituting processed or unprocessed red meat with other forms of protein can cut your chance of death by varying amounts. Fish, for example, will cut your mortality rate by 7 percent whereas low-fat daily and legumes lead to a 10 percent reduction. Whole grains and poultry, like chicken and turkey, will reduce your mortality risk by 14 percent, and nuts give you the best chance at a long life with a 19 percent reduction (via Health Watch).
Staying inside all the time poses multiple risks that can lead to death
If you’d rather spend your weekends playing video games in a darkened room than breathing fresh air and appreciating nature, well, that may just mean you’re a product of the 21st century. We spend more time indoors than we have at any other point in history, and why not? It’s dry, it’s temperature controlled, and bears can’t get us in there. Usually. And if you’re thinking, "Well, as long as I’m indoors but standing most of the time, I’m good," you are unfortunately incorrect. There are lots of reasons why spending too much time inside is unhealthy, and it isn’t just because you sit down a lot when you’re at home.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is actually a lot more polluted than outdoor air — two to five times more polluted, in fact. Lack of exposure to sunlight can also throw off your sleep cycle, which puts you further at risk for premature death. You’re also more likely to catch a nasty virus if you’re inside, too. It’s wise to step outside — though you definitely should still try to stay away from bears.
Being careless with money could just kill you
That shiny new credit card in your wallet sure does feel like free money — until all the bills start pouring in and you realize that you didn’t actually need that new gadget. Interestingly, it’s not just the fact that you can’t afford to pay those bills that’s bad, it’s also the stressing out that comes with it.
Being careless with your money, or even just not being a very high earner, can damage your cardiovascular health, and that’s especially true if you’re older. A 2014 study published in BMC Public Health found that older people who live paycheck to paycheck without a "cash margin" for emergencies have a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Now, it’s true that being cash-poor isn’t always something you can control. However, being careful with your money when at all possible means you’ll be less likely to suffer from the kind of financial stress that can literally damage your heart.
Skipping breakfast regularly could lead to an early death
In addition to teaching you the dangers of cigarettes or having cookies before dinner, your mom probably also told you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Well, in terms of your longevity, she was right.
According to the American Heart Association, people who eat breakfast are healthier overall. They have better cholesterol, better cardiovascular health, and lower blood pressure than people who habitually skip their morning meal. One small study even found that people who skip breakfast on a regular basis had an increased mortality rate of 50 percent compared to those regularly eat breakfast (via Nedley Health Solutions).
What about the research that shows you will burn more calories if you skip breakfast? That might be true, but breakfast skippers are also prone to chronic inflammation, which can actually increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes or obesity. In other words, there are some short-term benefits to A.M. fasting but, in the end, you’ll probably end up worse off than you would have been if you had just made breakfast a regular part of your routine.
Could not drinking wine actually kill you?
Okay, it is very, very true that street drugs and a lot of improperly used prescription drugs will send you straight into an early grave. However, alcohol may just be an exception — though a very specific exception.
According to a 2018 review published the journal, Molecules, drinking an occasional glass of wine is actually good for you. It’s full of antioxidants, which have a whole host of health benefits, including reducing inflammation. Red wine may also decrease your risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. And wine might even decrease your risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure.
On the other hand, if you go overboard and consume more than a glass a day, wine can have the opposite effect. You already know that too much alcohol is bad for your liver, but it might also be bad for your heart. So pour yourself a glass of wine without regret, but maybe avoid pouring yourself the second one.
Failing to floss can shorten your lifespan
So maybe you are not one of those people who makes empty promises to your dentist, like, "Yes I absolutely will be better about flossing every day." Or maybe you are. Whatever; we’re not here to judge. But here’s the thing: Not flossing isn’t just a problem for your teeth. It also affects a particularly important organ.
According to Harvard Health, poor oral hygiene leads to poor heart health — and that’s not just an anecdotal observation. Multiple studies have pointed to a connection between oral health and heart health, which seems bizarre until you understand some of the theories behind why this might happen.
The bacteria that live inside your mouth don’t have to hang out there exclusively. They can travel through your blood vessels to other body parts and, in doing so, can cause small blood clots that may eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. So gum disease isn’t just about bad breath and becoming a social pariah, it can also be potentially deadly. And if that isn’t enough to convince you, one study found that making flossing a habit can add 6.4 years to your life (via CBS News).
Your aversion to spicy foods may just lead to an earlier death
If you’re always passing on the hot sauce, you might be missing out on an opportunity to add more years to your life. According to Harvard Health, people who eat spicy food every day have a 14 percent reduced chance of dying than people who eat spicy foods once a week.
It’s important to remember that so far this is just a correlation. The study couldn’t actually connect the two factors definitively. It could be that people who eat spicy food also tend to do other things that improve their longevity, like drinking a ton of water or other habits that improve one’s health and life expectancy. Nevertheless, the sample size for this particular study was huge (more than 500,000 people), so it certainly seems like there’s at least some kind of relationship between spicy food and a long life — even if we don’t fully understand why. So pass the Sriracha everyone. It hurts, but it’s a good kind of hurt.
Your smartphone usage could lead to an untimely death
It may seem strange, but slouching can be bad for your health. In particular, the sort of slouching you do while using your smartphone can wreak havoc on your body. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, the posture most people assume while texting, gaming, or doing whatever it is you do on your phone seems to lead to impaired lung function. That’s not the only issue slouching can cause.
If you go out looking for other smartphone-related health impacts, you don’t have to go very far. A review of studies and meta-analyses published in BMC Psychiatry linked smartphone use in university students to higher levels of depression and anxiety, and also found a correlation between smartphones and reduced quality of sleep. And never mind the whole texting while driving problem, and the ever-increasing risk of getting hit by a car while walking and texting.
Sitting in traffic can shorten your life
Getting stuck on a gridlocked freeway is a "habit" many wish they could break. Although you could, in theory, find a job closer to home or negotiate more days of remote work, carpool, use public transportation, or work different hours, these things may be easier said than done. Plus, not everyone has those alternatives available to them. Still, when you consider what all that traffic-sitting is actually doing to your health, well, let’s just say it’s probably worth having a chat with your boss.
One study found that commuting may shorten women’s lives, in particular (via Pacific Standard). As the American Journal of Preventive Medicine highlighted, people who commute longer distances spend less time exercising or being physically active in general. That’s not especially surprising, since you can’t exercise when, you know, you’re sitting in your car. The study also found that long-distance commuting contributed to higher BMIs and waist circumference, and that it had a negative impact on blood pressure. Anyone who’s ever been a quarter mile from an offramp with a million stopped cars in the way understands that last bit.
Your neck-cracking habit can potentially kill you
Popping your neck is super cringey. Literally everyone shudders when the person sitting next to them does an out-of-nowhere, totally audible do-it-yourself chiropractic adjustment. Sure, it feels good, but did you know it could kill you? And not like the "takes two years off your life" kind of death, either — but the instant kind. Yes, according to a case study reported by Science Alert in 2019, a 28-year-old man popped his neck and then had a major stroke. Evidently, the act of cracking his neck tore an artery. This tear then led to a blood clot, and the clot caused a stroke.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, but a neck-cracking stroke is pretty rare, and it is not super likely that it will happen to you. That said, can you be too careful? Maybe it’s time to finally break that super cringey habit.
Being chronically unhappy can lead you to an early death
There may be nothing more annoying than when a seemingly always happy person tells you to smile when you really just don’t feel like smiling. However, those folks might actually be on to something. As it turns out, stress of any kind, in particular the kind caused by unhappiness, can be really bad for your heart.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, pretty much any prolonged period of negative emotions — from rage to anger to grief — will cause your body some problems. When you experience negative emotions, your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate spikes, and your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. And guess what? Cortisol can increase your risk of heart disease.
Everyone experiences strong negative emotions occasionally, but when you experience prolonged periods of anger or grief or even the pain of a really bad breakup, you can develop stress cardiomyopathy, which is sometimes called "broken heart syndrome." This condition quickly weakens the heart muscle and, yes, it can lead to death.
Ironically, worrying about death can lead to an early death
Worrying doesn’t make you feel good, and it certainly doesn’t do you any good, either. The problem isn’t whether or not you worry, though, it’s how much you worry. According to a study published in The American Journal of Public Health, worrying is bad for your — you guessed it — ticker. So if you spend a lot of time worrying about, say, death, you might just be habituating yourself to death. As Healthline explained, "the fear of death adversely impacts healthy living."
If you have this sort of anxiety known as "death anxiety," you may be tempted to avoid the seemingly grim topic altogether. However, it may actually help if you talk about it. "Death is not something we talk about often. Perhaps we all need to become more comfortable discussing this almost taboo topic," Lisa Iverach, senior research fellow at the University of Sydney, told Healthline. "It shouldn’t be the elephant in the room."