It can be a very familiar scene in old movies: actors and actresses sharing drinks and cigarettes. Those habits were glorified on the screen, and then became part of the American scene. We exported those habits to the battle fields in WW II and many in that generation became addicted to nicotine.
The two habits in question are, of course, smoking and drinking alcohol. Just how important are these two habits to longevity? Let’s look at the conclusions of the studies, first examining smoking.
Don’t Smoke or Stop Smoking if You Do
“Very few centenarians have smoked tobacco. Nearly all of them have not smoked at all in their lives…Smoking is the most important behavioral health hazard and the single most preventable cause of death and disease for Americans.” (p. 128, 129)
Here are two interesting facts: every cigarette smoked takes an average of 7 minutes off your life. And although overall demographic trends reflect a decrease in percentage of smokers, the percentage of middle-school and high school students using e-cigarettes skyrocketed in the last 7 years (American Lung Association). The health implications of this trend are yet to be determined.
From Dr. Howard, ‘The bottom line is, if you want to be a healthy centenarian, don’t smoke, or if you do, quit as soon as you can.”
Drink Less Alcohol
Most centenarians have not drunk much alcohol. So the 2.3 gallons of pure alcohol per year that the average American drinks may seem high to those with their eyes on longevity. Apparently, there is a very narrow window of benefit for the one drink per day for women, and one to two per day for a man. Drink in excess of that, even just one drink, increases the risk for heart disease, stroke, liver disease and some cancers (p. 133).
By the way, from the studies, here’s the quantity of one drink:
- 12 ounce beer
- 4 ounces of wine
- 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
Conclusion from Dr. Howard, ‘alcohol appears to be a double-edged sword in the aging process- good if you are at some risk for life- shortening disease but not especially helpful if you have an otherwise healthy lifestyle.’
These are two habits, smoking and drinking alcohol, that are not practiced by centenarians. It would seem that in the long run, they add nothing to longevity of life.
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