Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Death on the Instalment Plan

By Tim Olds

How much does watching TV, having a beer or walking to work alter your life expectancy?

Professor Tim Olds leads the Health and Use of Time Group at the Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Did you watch telly last night? If you’re like most Australian adults, you would have spent a couple of hours in front of the box. Well, you can knock 44 minutes off your life. That’s right, every time you sit down to a couple of hours of The X-Factor or Downton Abbey it means that you will die 44 minutes earlier than you would have otherwise.

Maybe you had a couple of beers as you watched the cricket? That’s OK, but the third one will cost you 30 minutes of life, the same as a Big Mac. Each cigarette costs you 15 minutes, let alone the time it takes to smoke it.

Not much is certain in this world, but there is one thing we can be quite sure of: how you use your time affects your health. At the University of South Australia, the Health and Use of Time (HUT) Group has been exploring the links between how we use our time and our health.

It’s not just physical activity and TV. Sleep, social interactions and cognitive behaviours can have huge impacts on our physical and psychological health. Learning to play a musical instrument or learning a foreign language as a child – even if you give it up later – greatly reduces your risk of developing Alzheimers.

Even where we do things matters. In the celebrated “windows” study, hospital patients randomly allocated a room with a window looking out onto a wooded area used fewer drugs and spent less time in...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.