For Every Two Pounds You Gain, You Lose This Much Time Off Your Life

Updated: Nov. 05, 2017

New research says the two biggest contributing factors to longevity are maintaining a healthy weight and a good education.

scaleJuan Ci/shutterstockWe already know education and maintaining a healthy weight are important. Now, according to new research, they’re also the keys to keeping you alive. (Need more motivation to exercise? Check out these 11 tricks you probably haven’t tried.)

The study, published in Nature Communications, found that people who are overweight cut their life expectancy by two months for every two pounds of weight they carry. For their work, the researchers, out of the University of Edinburgh, analyzed genetic information from more than 600,000 people in addition to records of their parents’ lifespan. The method was inspired by people sharing half of their genetic information with each of their parents, ultimately allowing the team to calculate the severity certain genes have on life expectancy.

Because lifestyle choices are, to an extent, influenced by our DNA, the researchers were able to pinpoint which ones have the biggest influence on lifespan.

One of the major findings was in regard to overweight individuals, with the finding that, for each additional two pounds of weight, their life expectancy was cut a full two months. The second was that, for each year of post-secondary education, 11 months were added to one’s lifespan. The researchers also found that body fat and other factors linked to diabetes can take time off your life.

Another big revelation was that cigarette smoking and traits linked with lung cancer had the biggest influence on the shortening of lifespan. So if you smoke a pack of cigarettes a day during your life, on average, you risk losing seven years of your life.

Smokers, if this news is discouraging, it’s important to note that, according to the researchers, if you choose to quit, you can eventually expect to live just as long as somebody who never picked up the habit in the first place. (Here are 23 ways to stop smoking for good.)

Two new DNA differences that impact lifespan were also identified in the study. One gene affects blood cholesterol levels that cuts your lifespan by eight months, and the other is associated with the immune system. This gene boosts life expectancy by about half a year.

“The power of big data and genetics allow us to compare the effect of different behaviors and diseases in terms of months and years of life lost or gained, and to distinguish between mere association and causal effect,” said Professor Jim Wilson, of the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute.

While Dr. Peter Joshi, Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Usher Institute, said, “Our study has estimated the causal effect of lifestyle choices. We found that, on average, smoking a pack a day reduces lifespan by seven years, whilst losing one kilogram of weight will increase your lifespan by two months.”

The results are just another reason to eat well, exercise often, stay in school, and stay away from smoking. You should also try these 12 simple rules that will help you live to 100.