Thanks to Oprah and pharmaceutical commercials, we're all pretty aware of what it takes to live a healthy life: vitamins, exercise and colon-cleansing yogurt. Unless you pay attention to a little thing called science, which says that there are plenty of random and even bad habits that will help us live longer. For example ...
It doesn't seem possible that a recession would make you live longer. After all, while life is more important than money, you need money to buy the things that keep you alive. So in turbulent economic times, you would expect the life expectancy of the population to lower as unemployment increases and nobody can afford to pay for doctors and Flintstones vitamins. Also, instead of eating expensive fresh fruit and vegetables, we subsist on the warm bowl of salt and fat we call ramen noodles. But the statistics show that, incredibly, economic hardship actually increases life expectancy.
"My sewer rat and cigar butt soup is a natural elixir."
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the death rate in the U.S. declined and life expectancy rose during the whole financial collapse from 2007 to 2010. And it's not just coincidence, either. According to one expert, the numbers are oddly specific -- every percentage point increase in unemployment translates to 12,000 fewer deaths per year. And we've seen it in the past, too -- during the peak years of the Great Depression, life expectancy grew by six years. That's not 0.6 years; we mean six actual years.
So what's going on here? Are people actually dying but opting for a fireplace cremation so their deaths go unreported? Does God hate poors and not want them in heaven?
"He told me to come back when I have a job, then called me a hippie and threw change in my face."
None of the above. While suicide rates do rise during tough times, just about every other kind of fatality drops. Fewer people can afford to go out, so fewer cars are on the road. Boom -- fewer traffic fatalities. Unhealthy vices like cigarettes, liquor and restaurant food become luxuries.
Plus, staying home means forming stronger bonds with family, which is universally known to be good for you, even accounting for the families who wind up murdering each other after the 10th consecutive argument about which way the toilet paper should hang. Even the thing that's causing the recession -- unemployment itself -- is good for your stress levels, and fewer people suffer heart attacks.
Whatever, pussy. Should have quit your job.
See, unemployed college grads? If everything goes right, you could be living in crushing poverty until you're 80 or 90 years old.
This is another one that seems impossible. We all know of at least one famous person (or a dozen) who drank himself to death, or who died in a drunken accident. Hell, it seems like drunk driving alone would push the mortality rate for drinkers through the roof. For all of the reasons that Prohibition was a terrible idea, they did have one part right: Drinking alcohol is bad for you. Right?
Wrong. People who totally abstain from alcohol have a higher mortality rate than those who occasionally imbibe.
"And that, my friends, is why I'm always drunk at work."
Now, we know what you're thinking: Some of those abstainers are probably abstaining after a lifetime of constant boozing. Of course they're one sneeze from meeting their maker when their livers are ticking time bombs -- hell, they probably only stopped drinking because their doctors made them. But no, even when you factor the former heavy drinkers out of the equation, non-drinkers are still more likely to die younger than moderate drinkers.
In a 20-year study of 1,824 participants, people who had one to three drinks a day were two times more likely to live longer than those who stuck with water and soda pop.
So moderate drinking isn't bad for you. But now get ready for this newsflash: Even drunks live longer than teetotalers. Yep, during the 20 years of this study, 69 percent of the non-drinkers dropped dead, 60 percent of the heavy drinkers died and only 41 percent of the moderate drinkers went to that moderate bar in the sky.
Why? Experts think there are a few behavioral things at play here. One is that non-drinkers tend to have fewer social ties and less family support than casual drinkers. Surprisingly, people who don't drink also skew toward having lower income and education levels, in addition to fewer friends, all of which are factors in the longevity game.
"Two more shots of tequila and you can call me the goddamn Highlander."
You'd think that with all the body-ripping and stress associated with pregnancy, childbirth and babies that each kid would knock a few years off a woman's life. In what kind of world would varicose veins in the vagina be a good thing, after all? This one, it turns out. Women who have more kids tend to add years to their life as they have them. Dads, too. For proof, look no further than the Amish.
Researchers studied 937 mothers and 1,078 fathers from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, going back to 1749. What they found was that for every kid up to baby No. 14, lifespan increased for the mom by 0.32 years and for dad by 0.23 years. In other words, every four kids bought dads almost a year of life! Finally, a good reason for having sex!
"Hey, I was thinking maybe you could come over later and we could add eight minutes to each others' lives."
So, you're probably thinking "Hey, the Amish are a hearty, clean-living folk. That's not me!" Fine. A 20-year study in another part of the world came to the same conclusions. In 1988 and 1989, over 2,800 elderly people from Dubbo, Australia, agreed to check in with researchers until the day they died. Old ladies who never had children experienced the highest mortality rate, but old ladies who had farted out six or more kids had a 40 percent lower death risk than those who kept their legs crossed every now and then. Does that mean there's a whole colony of immortal Australian women? We'll never know.
We also don't know why women who have more kids live longer. It could be that moms with bigger families have stronger social networks that keep them going longer. Or maybe the more kids you have, the greater chance you have of getting cool and helpful microchimeric fetal cells that benefit your body. Or maybe they just have more motivation to cling to life, to see how their kids turn out. You're not paying attention to any of this anyway, because you're still too busy imagining Amish people fucking.
"Wait. It's a-rockin'. We'll wait a few minutes before we come a-knockin'."