“Exercise 150 minutes a week, live 3.4 years longer!” You’ve probably seen that headline—from a recent Harvard study—and many others like it all over the web. Hit the gym, eat more vegetables, or quit smoking, and you’ll add years to your life.
In concept, it’s a good tool for motivation. The problem? It’s hard to conceptualize how something you do today might affect you in 30 or 40 years, David Spiegelhalter, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics at the University of Cambridge tells us. (And if you’re already going to live to be 91, why bother trying to stretch those twilight years to the age of 94 years, 4 months?)
That’s where Spiegelhalter’s quirk of statistics comes in. He thinks about the effect of specific activities on your longevity in terms of “microlives”—30-minute windows. Break the numbers down and you’ll see just how binge drinking cuts years from your life: After the first one, which increases your lifespan by 30 minutes, every alcoholic drink that you down today brings you 15 minutes closer to death. (That means the standard advice of “no more than two drinks a day” still stands, since you’re still 15 minutes ahead after two drinks.)
We’ve laid out just how the good and bad habits you engage in daily are either adding extra hours to your clock, or stealing them away so that you can plan your time accordingly.