4 Things You Didn't Know Are Shortening Your Life

If you're reading this on your phone while driving down the highway at 75 mph, chances are you're not going to live very much longer. For most of us, though, the cause and time of our final demise is a complete mystery.

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According to WebMD, the answer is "cancer" and "tomorrow."

Assuming we don't get run over today by some douche reading comedy articles on his smartphone, it's hard to predict just when we're going to leave this Earth for the sweet embrace of death. Sure, we can eat healthy, not smoke, and try to walk briskly away from any prison riots in our vicinity, but there's all kinds of other weird shit that also affects our life-scope. For example, you can be killed early by ...

#4. Not Having Enough Friends

If you're the sort of person who deliberately shops at several different grocery stores to avoid the clerks getting to know you enough to try to make conversation, you know that life in this extroverted world is not cut out for you. Not only is society full of talkative store clerks, we're constantly being told that human solitude is the domain of losers, serial killers, and people who pick their teeth in public. Well, take heart, introverts, because I have some good news ... your social isolation is also going to murder you!

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Turns out, a lack of friends can shorten the human lifespan as much as more well-known killers like smoking and alcohol consumption. In fact, the effects of social isolation actually outweigh some of the much-touted risk factors for mortality, like obesity and lack of exercise. In other words, you might be better off sitting on the sofa at home rather than going jogging, as long as there's someone else on the sofa with you.

Earlier studies blamed this early-death phenomenon on loneliness: after all, being lonely sucks, and there's only so many birthdays you can spend crying alone in front of a single cupcake with a candle in it before it starts to affect your health. But more recent research suggests that it's the isolation itself that does the killing. A 2013 study of elderly people in the U.K. found that while simply reporting feelings of loneliness had no effect on one's likelihood of dying anytime soon, social isolation increased a person's likelihood of death by 26 percent when compared with more social people in a similar age range. So even if you're perfectly happy to spend all your time alone accompanied only by a vaguely human-shaped mannequin painted to look like Andrew WK (and who wouldn't?), Death's bony form will still be creeping up behind you.

How Does That Work?

Part of this is obvious: if you avoid other humans, you're less likely to figure out that the lump on the back of your neck is growing, or that one of your limbs has become possessed and needs to be removed. And no matter how much your cat loves you, it probably won't call an ambulance when you're choking.

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It might put together a nice bouquet for the funeral, though. And then eat it.

But there are also physical causes behind humanity's propensity for solitude-death. Physical contact between humans has been shown to reduce stress and inflammation, so isolating yourself from humanity is a good way to make your health go south. Not to mention the fact that most of us just tend to take better care of ourselves when others are around: having other humans in the house often inspires a kind of behavior-improving shame that causes us to, say, get a healthy eight hours of sleep instead of staying up all night trying to make deep-fried s'mores in our bathtub. And if the thought of dying alone and sad is getting you down, you should try to cheer up, because another thing that will kill you is ...

#3. Depression

Because just being depressed doesn't suck enough: recurrent depression will lower your lifespan by up to 11 years. That's about the same amount of life you'd lose by smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day, or by moderately pissing off that guy who runs the life-sucking machine in The Princess Bride.

Maybe if you, like, beat up his dog or something.

How Does That Work?

It's no big secret that people with depression are at higher risk for suicide, as well as for less-than-healthy activities like drinking too much. But this sad rabbit hole may go deeper than that. Recently, scientists have been looking at the effect depression has on your body at a cellular level. They do this by measuring people's telomeres, which sounds kind of dirty but actually just refers to a part of your chromosomes that shortens with cell age. Looking at the telomeres within a cell can tell you how old and worn-out that cell is feeling. The shorter your telomeres are, the more you're at risk of an early death from age-related ailments like heart disease and cancer.

So researchers looked at blood samples from three groups of people: those who had never been depressed, those who'd had major depressive disorder in the past, and those that were depressed right at that moment. After ruling out lifestyle factors like drinking and smoking, they measured the subjects' telomere length and discovered that the never-depressed group had longer telomeres. What's even creepier is that the more severe the depression the subjects reported, the shorter and more age-related-disease-prone their telomeres got. It's as if your body can measure the depths of your existential despair at a cellular level, like some really fucked-up version of that pain scale they give you in hospitals.

There's no Vicodin that can cover the hurt in my soul.

The blame here seems to lie with the effect of major depression on the immune system, as well as that old bastard that is always ruining everything, inflammation. So the more depressed you are, the worse it is for your health, and holy Christ that realization is really depressing, and- oh God I've just made it worse, haven't I.

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C. Coville

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