Smoking is bad, vegetables are good. Alcohol is bad AND good. How can you tell if your healthy efforts outweigh your unhealthy indulgences?

Use this calculator to see how many microlives you’ve saved or spent.down

David Spiegelhalter, a statistician from the University of Cambridge, has developed microlives. Each microlife, or 1 millionth of an average adult lifetime, works out to about 30 minutes.

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Bad news if you’re male: women tend to live for around 3 years longer than men. The various activities studied also show sex specific effects, and these have been taken into account when working out the microlives. (1)


A recent analysis based on over 66,000 deaths estimated that, for every 5 BMI points above optimum (22.5), the risk of death increases by 29%. The accuracy of this figure is uncertain, because it’s difficult to collect accurate information about weight loss, but this is the current best estimate.(2)

Q1How many cigarettes did you smoke today?

Smoking 15-24 cigarettes a day increases mortality by a whopping 117%. (3)

Q2How many units of alcohol did you drink today?

In a recent meta-analysis of studies involving over a million people and 94,000 deaths, the first unit of alcohol drunk per day was associated with a decrease in death—but each successive daily drink was associated with an increase.

The exact effects of drinking are hard to quantify, because various other factors might play a part in the outcome. Researchers in Italy cautiously proposed a 10% reduction in mortality for low compared with medium consumption of alcohol, which has been included in the calculation of microlives. (4)

Q3How many hours of TV did you watch today?

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have been studying the link between diet and cancer. Using data from their study to investigate sedentary lifestyles, they reported an increase in death of 4% from each hour of television watched—even when they took into account other activities of the study participants. (5)

Q4How many minutes of exercise did you do today?

A meta-analysis of 22 studies and over 52,000 deaths found that just 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day reduced mortality by 19%. (6)The first 20 minutes are most important; each subsequent 40 minutes reduced mortality further, but by a lesser extent. A recent study of 400,000 people in Taiwan, published in The Lancet, showed a very similar picture (7)

Q5How much red meat did you eat today?

In the same study, the researchers who reported on TV watching also looked at the effects of diet. A daily portion of red meat (85g or 3oz) increased mortality by 13%.(8)

Q6How many portions of fruit & veg did you eat today?

In yet another analysis from the same study as TV watching, eating the recommended 5 portions of fruit and veg reduced mortality in men by 34% and in women by 25% (9)

Q7How many cups of coffee did you drink today?

A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that daily consumption of 2-3 cups of coffee lowered mortality by 10% in men and 13% in women, compared with no consumption. (10)

Q8Are you currently taking statins for a medical condition?

A meta-analysis has estimated a reduction of 9% for all-cause mortality for people taking statins for primary disease prevention. However, it’s difficult to calculate whether this reduction lasts for a whole lifetime or lessens over time. (11)


* average loss in life expectancy, assuming a regular habit throughout adult life. Based on current epidemiological evidence on association between long-term behaviour and all-cause mortality.

(1) Office for National Statistics. Interim Life Tables, 2008-2010

(2) Prospective Studies Collaboration. Body-mass index and cause specific mortality in 900,000 adults: collaborative analyses of 57 prospective studies. Lancet 2009;373:1083–96.

(3) Doll R. Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 2004;328:1519-0.

(4) Di Castelnuovo A, Costanzo S, Bagnardi V, Donati MB, Iacoviello L, de Gaetano G. Alcohol dosing and total mortality in men and women: an updated meta-analysis of 34 prospective studies. Arch Intern Med 2006;166:2437–45.

(5) Wijndaele K, Brage S, Besson H, Khaw K-T, Sharp SJ, Luben R, et al. Television viewing time independently predicts all-cause and cardiovascular mortality: the EPIC Norfolk Study. Int J Epidemiol 2011;40:150–9.

(6) Woodcock J, Franco OH, Orsini N, Roberts I. Non-vigorous physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and metaanalysis of cohort studies. Int J Epidemiol 2011;40:121–38.

(7) Wen CP, Wai JPM, Tsai MK, Yang YC, Cheng TYD, Lee M-C, et al. Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study. Lancet 2011;378:1244–53

(8) Pan A, Sun Q, Bernstein AM, Schulze MB, Manson JE, Stampfer MJ, et al. Red Meat Consumption and Mortality: Results From 2 Prospective Cohort Studies. Arch Intern Med 2012;172:555–63.

(9) Khaw K-T, Wareham N, Bingham S, Welch A, Luben R, Day N. Combined Impact of Health Behaviours and Mortality in Men and Women: The EPIC-Norfolk Prospective Population Study. PLoS Med 2008;5:e12.

(10) Freedman ND, Park Y, Abnet CC, Hollenbeck AR, Sinha R. Association of coffee drinking with total and cause-specific mortality. N Engl J Med 2012 May 17;366:1891–904.

(11) Ray KK, Seshasai SRK, Erqou S, Sever P, Jukema JW, Ford I, et al. Statins and all-cause mortality in high-risk primary prevention: a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials involving 65,229 participants. Arch Intern Med 2010 ;170:1024–31.


1 microlife = 30 minutes