Losers Win? Runners-Up Live Longer Than Presidents, Harvard Study Finds

President Obama, seen here Saturday, has visibly aged while in office. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

President Obama, seen here Saturday, has visibly aged while in office. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The gray that has seeped across his hair, the skin folds that now bracket his mouth — like many leaders, President Obama has aged dramatically while in office.

And that visible aging may reflect stress-driven biological wear-and-tear that could shorten a leader’s life, suggests a new study on presidents and prime ministers.

The findings contradict an alternative school of thought, that the elixir of winning and holding power leads to longer life.

From the BMJ press release:

Election to head of government is associated with an increased risk of death compared with runner-up candidates, finds a study in the Christmas issue of The BMJ.

…A team of US researchers set out to test the theory that politicians elected to head of government may experience accelerated aging and premature death due to stress of leadership and political life.

They compared survival of 279 nationally elected leaders from 17 countries with 261 unelected candidates who never served in office, from 1722 to 2015…

After adjusting for life expectancy at time of last election, elected leaders lived 2.7 fewer years and had a 23% increased risk of death than runners-up.

WBUR’s Rachel Paiste spoke with Harvard Medical School’s Anupam Jena, an associate professor of health care policy and senior author on the paper. Their conversation, lightly edited: Continue reading

Every Minute Of Exercise Could Lengthen Your Life Seven Minutes


At a recent dinner party, a geeky friend of mine was cheerily justifying the piles of money he spends on a personal trainer. He’s feeling so great that it’s worth every cent, he exulted, “And the best part is the return on the time! Every minute you spend working out comes back to you, because you’ll live that much longer!”

“Really?” I wondered. I knew vaguely that being active lengthens life expectancy, but was the return on time spent really 1 to 1?

Certainly, I hoped it was. It’s a daily struggle to make the time to exercise, and the current federal health guidelines call for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise — a lot of time that somehow manages to seem like even more, magnified by the “should” it adds to so many days. There are hundreds of other reasons to exercise, and the one that works best for me is wanting to feel at my best on that very day. But it would be very comforting, I thought, if I knew that all of that time would come back to me.

Not only do you get the time back, it comes back to you multiplied — possibly by as much as seven or eight or nine.

Let me cut to the happy conclusion: It seems that it does. And then some. If you play with the data of a recent major paper on exercise and longevity, you can calculate that not only do you get the time back; it comes back to you multiplied — possibly by as much as seven or eight or nine.

To quote Tom Anthony, a regular CommonHealth reader with a Harvard physics degree who kindly helped me with the math, “I wish I could get these paybacks in the stock market.”

This is all a bit of a public health parlor game, of course, resting on averages and approximations. You, personally, could work out ten hours a week and still die flukishly young. But the math looked so striking that I asked for a reality check from Dr. I-Min Lee of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a Harvard professor and senior author of that recent paper, “Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity And Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis.”

Yes, she confirmed, she had not calculated out the question before, but according to her data, a middle-aged person who gets the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise — defined as the level of brisk walking — can expect a 1-to-7 return: seven extra minutes of life gained for each minute spent exercising.

Some background: Continue reading

Study: Expecting Dark Future May Help Pessimists Live Longer

If I had a penny for every exhortation I’ve heard to think positive because it will be good for my health, I’d be a millionaire. But now a new study of some 40,000 people claims that the glass half empty may be better for us than the glass half full, at least in old age.

From the press release:

Older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” The study was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.

So the interpretation of the findings is a sort of a grasshopper-and-ant thing: Expect adversity, prepare for it, and you’ll fare better. But to my mind, there’s a trade-off: Traipsing through life in a rosy haze of optimism may certainly make for a more pleasant time. So perhaps there’s a happy medium? A sort of “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst?”

More from the press release: Continue reading

Latest State Death Report Is Out; Is Health Reform Helping Only Whites Live Longer?

The latest state “death report” is out here, on 2008 data, and as I read through its highlights, these were the two that stopped me:

-In 2008, 10% of all deaths were amenable mortality (5,255), that is, deaths from certain causes that should not occur in the presence of timely and effective health care. For persons under 75 years of age, 28% of deaths were amenable mortality. Another way of saying this is that 28% of premature deaths were amenable to health care.

-The amenable mortality rate declined 6% since health care reform was implemented. When the amenable mortality rate for 2008 is compared with that of 2006 (before health care reform), the state rate went down from 82.5 (deaths per 100,000 population) to 77.4. This decline was only for Whites. There has been no change in the amenable mortality rate for Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians since 2006. (emphasis mine.)

Did we know this? I had understood that while racial disparities had not shrunk, the rising tide of access had lifted all boats.

Daily Rounds: Drug Co. Money Flows To Docs; Recalled Walmart Peas May Contain Glass; How To Live To 100; Organizing Boston Hospitals

Docs on Pharma Payroll Have Blemished Records, Limited Credentials – ProPublica “Drug companies say they hire the most-respected doctors in their fields for the critical task of teaching about the benefits and risks of their drugs. But an investigation by ProPublica uncovered hundreds of doctors on company payrolls who had been accused of professional misconduct, were disciplined by state boards or lacked credentials as researchers or specialists.” (ProPublica)

And here’s another, related story:

Mass. doctors earn drug firms’ dollars – The Boston Globe “While some doctors who gave speeches once or twice during 2009 and 2010 earned $2,000 to $3,000, more than two dozen Massachusetts psychiatrists, endocrinologists, and other specialists who gave frequent talks brought in $40,000 to $100,000 and, in a few cases, more. Dr. Lawrence DuBuske, an allergy specialist, earned the most: $219,775. The Globe reported earlier this year that he resigned from Brigham and Women’s Hospital largely because of its new speaking ban.” (Boston Globe)

Frozen Vegetables Sold at Kroger and Walmart Recalled – Parenting.com “PR Newswire reported that the Pictsweet Company announced a voluntary recall of certain codes of store brand products containing frozen green peas after the company learned that some of the packages may contain glass fragments, which may cause injury if ingested. Products subject to this recall were distributed only to Kroger stores in the Southeast United States and Walmart stores throughout the United States.” (parenting.com)

Personal Health – Three R’s for Extreme Longevity – NYTimes.com Esther Tuttle is pushing age 100. "Her memoir and replies to (a reporter's) queries revealed three critical attributes that might be dubbed longevity’s version of the three R’s: resolution, resourcefulness and resilience. Throughout her long life, she’s taken hardships in stride, traipsed blithely over obstacles and converted many into building blocks. And she has adhered to a regimen of a careful diet, hard work, regular exercise and a very long list of community service, all while raising three children." (The New York Times)

Running a hospital: Tactical update on SEIU Paul Levy on union organizing at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center: “There has been a theory circulating around town that this tactical decision to avoid MGH and Brigham and Women's Hospital might have its origins in the personal relationship between the former head of the SEIU and the Chief Operating Officer of PHS [Partners Health System], who served as an Deputy Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. Will SEIU's reluctance to take on the PHS hospitals be put aside now that Mr. Stern has left the SEIU and the COO [Tom Glynn] is leaving Partners?” (Running A Hospital)

Harvard Suggestion: Stand Up At Work!

Standing desk

I once visited the dacha near Moscow where Boris Pasternak penned “Doctor Zhivago,” and what struck me most was that in his little office, he had a chest-high “standing desk,” where he could write standing up. At the time, my thought was “Hemorrhoids?” But these days, new research suggests he may have been on to something of widespread health value.

Dr. Julie Silver of Harvard Medical School writes in a recent LiveStrong blog post that she noticed her colleague, Pat Skerrett, the editor of the Harvard Heart Letter, standing a lot in his office. Turned out he started standing to lessen back pain, but recommends it for a broad range of benefits — including possibly a longer life — in a Harvard Business Review post.
Silver writes:

What I really love about Pat’s advice is this:
1. It’s based on a new study that just came out which included more than 100,000 men and women. This study found that people who sat for more than six hours a day were more likely to have died (over a 14 year period) than those who sat for less than three hours a day. The authors of this study wrote, “The time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level.” The researchers went on to say, “Public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting.”
2. It actually makes you MORE efficient at work, rather than taking time away from your daily tasks. Pat highlights key points that include potential brain health benefits–increased alertness and productivity.
Can one simple thing change your life? Stand up and see…

Opinions vary on the good to be gained from standing up at work: The “Room For Debate” blog at The New York Times published a range of them under the title “Is All That Sitting Really Killing Us?” including the view that standing can pose physical problems as well.
Continue reading