Mortality Studies

I consider this to be probably the most important page on my site.  The reason is that mortality studies are really the gold standard of "how to live the most healthy lifestyle."  Mortality studies measure the rate that participants die during an extended study period and typically subdivided into deaths from heart disease, cancer and all causes. 

Mortality studies really answer the key questions that we all would like to know:

"How can I live the healthiest and longest life possible?"  "How can I lower my risk of dying a gruesome death of heart disease and cancer?" 

Remember one interesting fact:  currently science has no way to actually extend the life of humans or primates such as ourself.  Our maximum life span is about 115 years and there's no sign of extending that at this point.  Caloric restriction, which has worked in rodents and other animals, has proven tenuous at best. 

To my way of thinking the best that one can do is to live the lifespan that you have with maximum energy, vitality and strength.  And the keys to doing that are contained in the studies below.

By the way, one of the beauties of examing mortality studies is that other desireable effects are also generally achieved.  For example, living a healthy, long life is almost always associated with freedom from autoimmune disease and dementia, better skin with less wrinkling and sexual health and vitality.  It all fits together.

1.  Mediterranean Diet.  The Mediterranean Diet is hard to beat when it comes to reducing your risk of death.  (There are a few supercultures with superior mortality rates, but the Mediterrean is close behind.)  One ten year study of European seniors showed that adherence to a Mediterranean Diet and lifestyle resulted in dramatically lower cardiovascular, cancer and all cause death rates. [16]  Cancer, cardiovascular and all cause mortality were all approximately reduced by two thirds.  These are incredible numbers, but keep in mind that included in their definition was moderate drinking (1-2 drinks/day) and exercise along and non-smoking. [16] For more information, read this link on The Mediterranean Diet, where I also discuss its ability to preservice erectile strength.

2.  Exercise.  Exercise has been shown to substantially lower risk for heart disease and all cause mortality. [2]  In fact, one study of prehypertensive men (in the grey area between what normal and what doctors define as high blood pressure) showed that fitness strongly correlated in a "dose dependent" fashion with all cause mortality. [3]  In other words, the more fit the man, the less likely he was to die - pure and simple.  This held true for both young and old.

3.  Green Tea.  Green tea significantly lowered cardiovascular risk and colorectal cancer in a study of 14,000 Japanese seniors. [4] Of course, heart disease is the number one killer and so green tea should be a potent force in your mortality-boosting arsenal.

4.  Fruit and Vegetable Consumption.  A study of several thousand Finnish middle aged men (42-60) showed that cardiovascular, non-cardiovascular and all cause mortality were all significantly decreased with total fruit and vegetables consumption. [5] This study did not look at cancer specifically, but another study of Japanese men in the same year did just that and found a reduction in total cancers based on fruit and vegetable intake. [6]  The cancer rates specifically decreased were that of the lung, stomach and liver.

5.  Sitting. Sitting is incredibly hard on the body and one study found that all cause and cardiovascular death rates were increased independent of leisure time activity. [10]  In other words, that half hour at the gym cannot possibly make up for sitting for ten hours!

6.  Smoking.  It will probably surprise no one to learn that smoking increases the risk of dying in every category independent of cholesterol levels. [7]  (Someone had insisted that smoking only killed those with high cholesterol levels but this study shot that down.)  The researchers said that smoking translated to a shorter life on average of about 5.5 years.

7.  Weight. Several studies have shown that going from overweight to obese leads to increased mortality with that mortality rate increasing as time goes on as well. [8]  In fact, just gaining weight in the adult years is associated with increased mortality rates. [9]

8. Alpha-Carotene. Most health-conscious people have heard of betacarotene, but did you know that there is an alphacarotene as well.  It turns out that alpha-carotene may be the true heavy hitter in the crowd:  a recent study found that those with the highest alpha-carotene levels were at a 39% reduced level of dying when compared to those with the lowest levels. [11] One of the reasons is that alpha-carotene appears to provide potent protection against several kinds of cancer. You can get alpha-carotene in orange vegetables, such as yams, sweet potatoes and carrots, as well as spinach and broccoli. [12]

9. Friendships and Relationships. Most guys like to think of themselves as a rock - strong, independent and not really in need of anyone else. That may be a huge mistake when it comes to health.  BYU reserchers found that those with the lowest social interactions had mortality rates equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic and not exercising. [13] It was even twice as dangerous as being obese. [14]

10. Happiness and Positive Mood.  One recent meta-analysis found that happiness (and avoiding both chronic depression and anger) led to a longer life.  Scientist believe that this is because good moods boost the immune system and reduce stress. [15]

11. Television.  Is it any wonder that television can shave years off of your life according to the latest research? Australian reserachers found that those who watched 6 hours per day lived about five years less than those who watched none, a substantial difference when it comes to mortality studies. [16] Why? Undoubtedly, it's primarily because it encourages inactivity and poor eating. Melatonin disruption in the evening may play a role as well. 

12. Optimism. What's one of the best things that you can do to extend your lifespan?  It turns out that those who look on the bright side, the glass half full and so forth have greatly improved cardiovascular mortality (and also total mortality) according to a couple of studies. [17] A previous study on women had noted significantly improved mortality and cardiovascular outcomes (15-40%) in optimists versus pessimists. [18]

13. Vegetarian or Plant-based.  Many studies have shown that vegetarian live longer lives. [19] I document this in greater detail in my link on Vegetarians and Longevity.

14. Marriage.  One study showed that those who were not married during midlife had over twice the risk of premature death compared to those who were. [20] Furthermore, even those who had a spouse die during the same period and did not replace that spouse with another also had an increased risk of dying.  The authors tried to control for "personality and risky behaviors" as well. [21]

15. Low Testosterone.  Somewhere around 400 ng/dl and below, cardiovascular (and, therefore, all cause) mortality starts greatly increasing in men.  Low testosterone is very often an arterial disaster, which is part of the reason hypogonadism contributes to erectile dysfunction, and thus greatly increases a man's chance for dying.  I cover the details of this in my post on Testosterone and Mortality Rates.

16. Having a Purpose. It kind of makes sense:  researchers found that those who felt they had a purpose in life outlived those who didn't. [22] So I guess the moral of the story is to find a reason that you're supposed to hang out here on this rocky planet in space.



1)  JAMA, 2004 Sep 22m 292(12):1433-9, "Mediterranean diet, lifestyle factors, and 10-year mortality in elderly European men and women: the HALE project"

2)  Evid Based Med, 2004, 9:175, "Review: exercise based cardiac rehabilitation reduces all cause and cardiac mortality in coronary heart disease"

3) American Journal of Hypertension, 2009, 22(7):735 741, "Exercise Capacity and All-Cause Mortality in Prehypertensive Men"

4) Annals of Epidemiology, Oct 2009, 19(10):732-739, "Green Tea Consumption and Mortality among Japanese Elderly People: The Prospective Shizuoka Elderly Cohort"

5) J. Nutr, Jan 2003, 133:199-204, "Low Intake of Fruits, Berries and Vegetables Is Associated with Excess Mortality in Men: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor (KIHD) Study"

6) British Journal of Cancer, 2003, 88:689 694,"Vegetables and fruit intake and cancer mortality in the Hiroshima/Nagasaki Life Span Study"

7) American Journal of Epidemiology, 155(4):354-360, "Relation of Cigarette Smoking to 25-Year Mortality in Middle-aged Men with Low Baseline Serum Cholesterol"

8) NEJM, 2006, 355:763-778, "Overweight, Obesity and Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Persons 50 to 71 Years Old"

9) Am J Clin Nutr, 1997 Oct, 66(4 Suppl):1044S-1050S, "Obesity and mortality: a review of the epidemiologic data"

10) Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2009, 41(5)998-1005, "Sitting Time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer"

11) Arch Intern Med, 2010 Nov 22 [Epub ahead of print], "Serum {alpha}-Carotene Concentrations and Risk of Death Among US Adults: The Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-up Study"



14) PLoS Med, 7(7):e1000316, "Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review"


16) Br J Sports Med, 2011, "Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis"

17) Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2004 Nov, 61(11):1126-35, "Dispositional optimism and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in a prospective cohort of elderly dutch men and women"

18) Circulation, 2009, 120: 656-662, "Optimism, Cynical Hostility, and Incident Coronary Heart Disease and Mortality in the Women s Health Initiative"

19) Am J Clin Nutr, Sep 1999, 70(3):516S-524S, "Mortality in vegetarians and nonvegetarians: detailed findings from a collaborative analysis of 5 prospective studies"

20) Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Jan 2013, "Consistency and Timing of Marital Transitions and Survival During Midlife: the Role of Personality and Health Risk Behaviors"

21) springer+select?SGWID=0-11001-6-1401342-0

22) Psychological Science, May 8 2014, "Purpose in Life as a Predictor of Mortality Across Adulthood"