Long Commutes: Bad for the Heart

A new study finds that, in addition to being a real downer, long commutes are related to bad health. Conducted by Christine Hoehner, Carolyn E. Barlow, Peg Allen, and Mario Schootman, the study found that long commutes are correlated with higher blood pressure and bigger waistlines.  "This is the first study to show that people who commute long distances to work were less fit, weighed more, were less physically active and had higher blood pressure," said Hoehner. "All those are strong predictors of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers."

Early Retirement: Bad For Your Health?

Retirement ages have been trending up, as governments struggle to deal with escalating financial burdens. That might be sad news for would-be retirees -- but maybe they'll change their mind if they look at this new research from Andreas Kuhn, Jean-Philippe Wuellrich, and Josef Zweimüller. They examine the effects of early retirement on a sample of Austrian blue-collar workers:

We find that a reduction in the retirement age causes a significant increase in the risk of premature death – defined as death before age 67 – for males but not for females. The effect for males is not only statistically significant but also quantitatively important. According to our estimates, one additional year of early retirement causes an increase in the risk of premature death of 2.4 percentage points (a relative increase of about 13.4%; or 1.8 months in terms of years of life lost). In line with expectations, we find that IV estimates are considerably smaller than the simple OLS estimates, both for men and for women. This is consistent with negative health selection into retirement and underlines the importance of a proper identification strategy when estimating the causal impact of early retirement on mortality. Our results also indicate that the causal effect of early retirement on mortality for females is zero, suggesting that the negative association between retirement age and mortality in the raw data is entirely due to negative health selection. There are several reasons why male but not female blue-collar workers suffer from higher mortality (eg women may be more health-conscious and adopt less unhealthy behaviours than men; they may be more active after permanently exiting the labour market due to their higher involvement in household activities).

Are Bilingual Immigrants Healthier?

A new study by Ariela SchachterRachel Tolbert Kimbro, and Bridget K. Gorman found that strong English skills and native language skills are associated with better health for immigrants. Using language as an indicator of adaptiveness to a new country, the researchers set out to investigate the “healthy immigrant effect”:

The “healthy immigrant effect”—whereby immigrants initially appear healthier than the native-born, although with time in the U.S. their health status declines—continues to puzzle scholars. Acculturation, or the process by which immigrants adapt to a host country, is a primary explanation of this phenomenon.

End of Illness Author David Agus Answers Your Questions

We recently solicited your questions for David Agus, the oncologist author of The End of Illness. Now he's back with answers, including: the numbers on taking aspirin, how to get the most from a doctor visit, and the top 10 actions to reduce your cancer risk. I can guarantee you that his answers will enlighten and thrill some people and enrage and confound others. Thanks to everyone for their participation, and especially to Agus for the thorough answers. 

Q. I’m a 4th year medical student, and I watched your interview on The Daily Show when it first aired and really took issue with the way you presented many of these things. It seemed that you simplified your “solutions” to the point that it may actually be dangerous for people to listen to what you suggested. For example, you implied that everyone should be taking aspirin.

Bring Your Questions for End of Illness Author David Agus

Here's an obvious but sobering thought: every one of us will someday get sick and die. And here's a happier thought: with ever-advancing medical technology and research, we can now avoid many kinds of illnesses and add more years to our lifespan.

The oncologist David Agus lives halfway between those two thoughts. He is a professor at USC, the founder of Oncology.com, a co-founder of Navigenics, and now the author of The End of Illness. Most impressively, perhaps, he was recently a guest on The Daily Show

The End of Illness is Agus's take on how the body works and why it fails. Along the way, he challenges a lot of conventional wisdom about health with academic studies and his own medical experience. Arguments in the book include: that taking vitamins may increase the risk of cancer; that sitting at a desk all day may be as damaging as smoking; and that you can tell something about a patient's health based on whether she wears high-heel shoes. One review of the book reads: "A ‘rock star’ doctor says throw away the vitamins, load up on baby aspirin, and keep moving."

Retirement Kills: a New Marketplace Podcast

Are you bummed out that you might have to postpone retirement for financial reasons?

Well, there may be a silver lining: it looks like retirement may be bad for your health. That's the topic of our latest Freakonomics Radio on Marketplace podcast, "Retirement Kills." (You can download/subscribe at iTunes, get the RSS feed, listen via the media player above, or read the transcript below.)

The Great Recession has put a lot of retirement plans on hold, often at the behest of governments who can’t afford to pay pensions. Germany, the U.K., and France have all upped their retirement ages.  And the U.S. is seeing a lot more older workers as well. Lisa Boily of the Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that people 55 and older are expected to represent 25 percent of the labor force by 2020.

Part of this is simple demographics -- the graying of the baby boom -- but Americans are also working longer.

Are We Really Losing 1% of GDP Due to Poor Health? Also, a Poll on Polling

We've been writing a lot about obesity recently. First, it was this study about projected future obesity rates, then we covered Denmark's saturated fat tax, which Steve Sexton then criticized for being inefficient. So, if you're tired of reading fat-related posts on our blog, I get it. But as long as reports like this one from Gallup keep coming out, we're going to keep writing about them, especially when they include so many interesting conversation points.

Here are the top-line numbers:

About 86% of full-time American workers are above normal weight or have at least one chronic condition. These workers miss a combined estimate of 450 million more days of work each year than their healthy counterparts, resulting in an estimated cost of more than $153 billion in lost productivity per year. That's roughly 1% of GDP.

When Young People Need the Elevator

An e-mail from Brazil:

My name is Mauricio Castro, I have a social communications degree and teach interface design and multimedia systems.

I have a story I'd like to share with you guys.

I live in a nice neighborhood in the city of Vitória, Brazil. Being close to the beach, the city code forbids tall buildings in order to maintain sunlight in the sand all time. The maximum floor number is three.

So it's only natural that most buildings here don't have elevators. Even some new ones are presented only with stairs, especially those built for the younger customers.

So I went to the health clinic the other day and the nurse was telling me about the rising numbers of youngsters suffering from strokes. There are lots of explanations for these numbers rising, but mostly lifestyle and drug abuse.

Study: Early Bedtimes Keep Kids Slimmer

A new study out of Australia shows that children who go to sleep early and wake up early are less likely to be obese. The results, published in the Oct. 1 issue of the journal Sleep, indicate that it's not so much the amount of sleep kids get, but the times at which they get it that has the biggest impact on their weight.

Physical Activity During the Recession: More Voluntary Exercise, Less Exertion

Last month, we wrote about data pulled from the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), examining how Americans spend their lost work hours during the recession. While 32% of foregone work hours were spent watching TV and sleeping (not great, though sleeping is helpful), 15% of that time went to “other leisure,” among which, there is "listening to music" and "being on the computer," as well as "exercise and recreation."

Two new studies (both coauthored by Dhaval M. Dave of Bentley University) drill further into that ATUS data to paint a more complete picture of our exercise and physical activity habits, and ultimately, what impact they have on our health. The first finds that during the recession, we engage in more voluntary exercise, but have less exertion. Part of this has to do with the difference between exercise and physical activity -- the latter is seen as the healthier of the two. (Better to walk to work everyday than do sit-ups twice a week.) With the loss of work, comes a loss of physical activity -- particularly with the types of jobs we've lost.