August 16, 2016 5:01 pm
Updated: August 17, 2016 11:36 am

Canadian life expectancy: This is how much our bad habits cost us

WATCH: Bad habits are hard to break, and certain behaviour is costing Canadians years off their life expectancy. As Allison Vuchnich reports, it's concerning for public health advocates.

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Alcohol, cigarettes, lack of exercise and poor nutrition — they contribute to half the deaths in Canada and take six years off our lives, according to a new Canadian study released Tuesday.

Doug Manuel, the report’s lead author and a senior scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, was surprised to see how big of an impact the bad habits have.

“Six years of life expectancy is really very large,” he told Global News.

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His team updated an online calculator called Project Big Life, which was first created in 2012, to help Canadians estimate their own life expectancy based on their lifestyle choices.

It asks, in part, for your: age, weight, height, whether you smoke, your stress level, plus your alcohol consumption, food choices and level of fitness over the past week. You can put in your postal code as well to see the effect pollution might have on your health.

READ MORE: 16-year report links life expectancy to pollution

The calculator then tells you what your biggest risk factor is, how long you’ll likely live based on your current way of life, and what your “health” and “vascular age” is. If you check off “stroke risk,” you can see how likely you are to have one in the next five years. You’re also able to see how you stack up to the rest of the population.

As for your vices, depending on what they are, here’s how much they can cost you (based on an algorithm researchers created from Canadian health data):

  • 26 per cent of all deaths can be attributed to smoking — this is the top risk factor for men, representing a loss of 3.1 years
  • 24 per cent of all deaths can be attributed to physical inactivity — this is the top risk factor for women, representing a loss of 3 years
  • 12 per cent of all deaths can be attributed to poor diet
  • 0.4 per cent of all deaths can be attributed to unhealthy alcohol consumption

Smoking has traditionally been at the top of the list of bad habits but its prevalence is going down. Our physical activity and diets, on the other hand, haven’t really been improving.

“So that’s making a really big impact,” Manuel said.

READ MORE: Top 6 weight loss mistakes, according to diet and exercise experts

How to turn it around

We could all take a cue from 92-year-old David McLimont. He works out three days a week, has a personal trainer, and is training for a 10K walk.

“I am doing everything right,” the senior said. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I exercise and I eat properly.”

If more Canadians followed in his footsteps, the Ottawa study suggests our life expectancy could be close to 18 years longer.

David and his personal trainer Shannon, smile proudly, at the North York Seniors Centre, after they finish a 5k walk.

North York Seniors Centre

Manuel believes the problem isn’t that Canadians aren’t getting the message. He thinks certain barriers in our communities prevent us from living a healthy life.

READ MORE: Rising cost of food in Canada leading people to choose less healthy options, poll finds 

His biggest tip for those who feel like they’ve fallen behind in their health: “Just do anything.”

“That first step that you take if you’re completely sedentary makes such a huge impact on your life,” he said.

WATCH: ‘You just have to start’: Edmonton woman shares her 147-pound weight-loss journey

And when it comes to eating healthier, he suggests you find one fruit and vegetable you really like and look for creative ways to incorporate it into your diet.

“Eating that one fruit or vegetable per day can make a really big difference.”

READ MORE: The 41 most nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables

“It’s something that’s very real,” Kate Chidester, vice president of health and research with the Heart and Stroke Foundation in Alberta, said of the threat to our health.

“We’re really encouraging people to think about their health behaviours and get out there, and fill their plates half full of vegetables and get their exercise by walking around the block.

“And please stop smoking.”

With files from Allison Vuchnich, Global News

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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