Completing This Unexpected Activity Helps You Live Longer

Don't smoke. Eat healthy. Exercise. Get enough sleep. And manage your stress levels. These are some of the things we hear often as advice when it comes to preventing early death. For example, someone might tell you your risk of early death goes up if you stop eating this type of fruit. Living longer means taking care of your physical and mental health, so to speak. 

But there's apparently another activity that's positively related to how long you live — education. 

Per a 2024 meta-analysis of 600 different studies spanning 59 countries published in The Lancet Public Health, every additional year of education corresponded to a reduced risk of all-cause mortality among adults aged 18-49 years and those over 70 years of age, although the percentage was higher in the former group (2.9%). According to Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine and co-author of the study (via TIME), having a higher level of education was as effective as consuming your recommended amount of vegetables daily while being less educated was as risky as drinking five or more drinks daily or smoking 10 cigarettes a day for a decade. "The impact of education does seem to be comparable to some of the bigger health factors like diet, smoking, and excessive drinking," shared the professor. This isn't the only study that's looked at the association between education and early death risk. 

Education's impact on health and preventing early death

According to a 2015 study published in PLOS ONE, the magnitude of death because of low education is similar to that of death attributable to people who are current rather than former smokers. Cardiovascular disease was one of the main causes of death among the participants born in 1925, 1935, and 1945. Data from more than a million people was analyzed from the years 1986 to 2006. The researchers found that 145,243 deaths could have been prevented in the 2010 population if the subjects had completed a GED or high school degree and 110,068 deaths could have been prevented if the subjects had earned their bachelor's degree. 

"Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the U.S. population, especially given widening educational disparities," explained Patrick Krueger, author of the study and assistant professor in the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus (via Science Daily). 

Homicide and AIDS were linked with the most years of potential life lost (YPLL), and cancer and cardiovascular disease were found to be the most common causes of death in a 2020 Yale-led study published in the American Journal of Public Health. "These deaths are occurring in working-age people, often with children, before the age of 60," shared Dr. Brita Roy, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Yale School of Medicine and corresponding author of the paper.

How education is related to preventing premature death

Education has a direct impact on all the other habits that could help you live decades longer — like eating healthy, taking care of your mental health, exercising, preventing disease, avoiding drugs and smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption. For example, in the 2024 study, researchers hypothesize that not having a good level of education can affect your employment options, how much you earn, the kind of neighborhood you live in, and corresponding factors like access to healthy food. 

According to William and Mary assistant professor of economics Peter Savelyev, who's also researched the topic for a 2020 study published in the Journal of Human Capital, the kind of jobs you're exposed to when you don't have a college degree can also put you at risk of early death. "We also study the role of extremely dangerous work conditions, such as cutting trees or being exposed to infectious diseases. Educated people are less likely to face such jobs," added the professor. 

Poor education sometimes also means being stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty, mental stress, bad coping habits like drug addiction or smoking, and reduced access to quality healthcare. In fact, visiting the ER for this alcohol-related reason increases your risk of early death. There might also be a disparity when it comes to new findings about ways to live longer reaching those who are less educated, according to some experts. Education means having a better quality of life, which could mean fewer health issues. Making a country healthier might mean investing in education and making it accessible to all, per the experts.