Today I read some new research published recently in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet that I think everyone should know about. This large-scale study developed a questionnaire that can predict a person’s risk of dying within the next five years. One thingI like about this study is it focuses on a relatively short time frame—just five years. Most people can wrap their heads around that.
But perhaps the most interesting discovery to come out of this new study? The No. 1 predictor of mortality within a 5-year span isn’t smoking…or diet…or exercise (though all of those factors do play a role). Instead, it’s something much simpler. And even easier to control. I’ll tell you what it is in just a moment. But first, let’s take a closer look at the nuts and bolts of the research that led to this fascinating discovery.
As usual, this research comes from a country that values preventative health care, and I’m not talking about the United States. This study was out of the UK, and it was huge…it recruited nearly half a million British volunteers in 2006.
After collecting data from the volunteers for four years, researchers set up a databank called UK Biobank and separated the data into 10 categories: blood samples, cognitive function, factors from early in life, family history, health and medical history, lifestyle and environment, physical measures, psycho-social factors, male vs. female factors, and socio-demographics. And then the volunteers were followed for four more years, until February 2014.
Overall, the study found that the strongest predictors of death didn’t come from physical exams. Instead, how people described their own health on the questionnaires was a much stronger indicator of mortality risk. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that the researchers actually took the time to review the subjects’ medical history forms, and talk to them about it. Here in the US, you’re lucky if your doctor spends more than 5 minutes with you.But that’s a topic for another day…)
And as it turns out, the biggest predictor of how long people lived was how fast they walked.
In fact, walking speed won out over smoking habits and other lifestyle behaviors when it came to living longer. This was true for both males and females.
For example, men between the ages of 40 and 52 years had nearly four times the increased risk of death within five years if they described themselves as slow walkers, as opposed to those who answered “I walk at a steady average pace” on the questionnaire.
So, looking at it another way, your risk of dying within the next five years could be four times lower simply by speeding up a little bit on that evening walk I’m always telling you to take.
As far as health advice goes, it doesn’t get much easier.
Once again, this research is proof that simple changes can lead to some really big benefits.
Of course, as I mentioned above, walking speed wasn’t the ONLY predictor of longevity. The researchers also pinpointed some other simple, easy-to-modify lifestyle factors that play a role in short-term mortality risk. And they’ve created a simple on-line quiz that anyone over age 40 can take to find out their risk of dying within the next five years.
It’s called the UbbLE test (UbbLE is an acronym for The ‘U’K ‘L’ongevity ‘E’xplorer).
I actually took this test myself and it was super easy. All I had to do was answer a few very simple questions, like: “How fast do you walk?” “How many people in your household?” “Do you smoke?” etc. And in two minutes I was happy (but not surprised) to find out that I have almost no chance of dying in the next five years. (A good thing, considering I plan on being here a lot longer than five years…)
So I encourage you to take the quiz. And really take a cold, hard look at your results and the things you could do—starting today—to improve them. Chances are, you can make a few changes. Simple ones. Yes, some of them may take motivation and even a little mind over matter. But if you want to make sure you’re around in five years—and beyond—it’s well worth it.
Because the bottom line is, when you increase your physical activity, quit smoking, and eat a truly healthy diet (one that’s low in sugar and processed foods)…you WILL live longer.
Ganna, A, Inglesson, E. “5 year mortality predictors in 498 103 UK Biobank participants: a prospective population based study”The Lancet, Published Online: 03 June 2015.
“Ubble – UK Longevity Explorer Website” Available from: http://ubble.co.uk/