Festive season feasting: how overindulgence can lower your life expectancy

The festive season is in full swing

Thursday, December 22 2016

The festive season is in full swing and for most of us this means an abundance of scrumptious meals, dazzling drinks and seductive deserts. During this time, overindulgence is often overlooked, often even encouraged and generally considered acceptable – it is also often justified with the promise of eating healthily again “next year”.

A few days of bad eating and excessive drinking might seem harmless, but a sudden surge of unhealthy activity can have a negative impact on the body, and may even reduce life expectancy.
During the last few years, leading medical researchers have started using the term ‘microlives’ in order to better illustrate the impact of simple activities on life expectancy, says Netcare’s medical director, Dr Anchen Laubscher.

“A ‘microlife’ is a unit of risk representing thirty minutes’ change in life expectancy. For example, smoking two cigarettes is estimated to take away one ‘microlife’ thereby, in theory, shortening a hypothetical life by thirty minutes.

“A more applicable example that may reduce life expectancy is regularly having a meal containing three portions of meat, five portions of vegetables, three portions of carbohydrates and three alcoholic beverages.

“To have a meal of that size seems outrageous, but if you picture your average festive dinner table, it is easy to imagine three meats, five vegetables and various forms of starch accompanied by lots of alcohol,” she adds.

“The use of the term ‘microlives’ puts a lot of the seemingly harmless things we do over the festive season into rather harsh perspective. Excessive drinking, smoking and unhealthy eating can easily slice away a few hours of your life every day,” she cautions.

“Furthermore, you also toy with your quality of life by increasing your risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. The unexpected increase of bad eating habits puts your digestive hormones and enzymes in disarray, potentially negatively impacting vital physiological processes and vital organs such as your heart and kidneys. Your blood sugar and cholesterol levels will spike and you also risk long-term obesity as your body may struggle to get rid of the rapid weight gain,” she adds.
On the upside, Dr Laubscher says that it is important to remember that “microlives” can also be gained or replenished by engaging in healthy activities.

“A simple activity like a brisk walk in the evenings or a few laps in the pool can add up to six ‘microlives’ or three hours to your life expectancy according to research,” says Dr Laubscher. “Drinking enough water, controlling your portion sizes and getting enough sleep will also significantly increase your health,” she suggests.  

Alcohol use during the festive season

“Over the festive season, people tend to overindulge in alcohol, increasing the prevalence of motor vehicle collisions and other causes of death related to alcohol abuse. Overindulgence in alcohol impairs a person’s judgement and it is vital to remember that this can result in violence, accidents, drowning and other physical injuries,” adds Dr Laubscher.
“When it comes to alcohol abuse, drunk driving is possibly the greatest risk. Drunk driving remains one of the biggest causes of motor vehicle collisions and road deaths in the country,” she cautions.

At the beginning of the 2016, Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters, reported that during last year’s festive season, over 1 755 road fatalities were reported in South Africa. It has estimated that close on a half of these cases involved alcohol in some way.

“The statistics are shocking. There are countless campaigns and organisations that are creating awareness around the impact of drunk driving and attempting to decrease road deaths, but people still seem to think that it won’t happen to them,” says Dr Laubscher.   

“Now more than ever, there is no excuse for driving under the influence of alcohol. Technology has provided us with a number of reliable alternatives to get home safely and avoid driving under the influence,” she notes.  

Dr Laubscher concludes with a few useful tips on how to avoid overindulgence and stay safer this festive season:

  • Control your portion sizes. There is no need to eat more than your body needs just because it’s the festive season. Stick to the appropriate portion sizes for you age and body and be especially mindful of portions when eating desserts high in sugar.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking a lot of water. Often when you feel hungry, you are actually thirsty and people make the mistake of eating rather than drinking water, thereby consuming unnecessary kilojoules. By drinking enough water you will be able to control your cravings and portion sizes with greater ease.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time. By planning what and when you will eat, you will be able to avoid snacking and picking on unhealthy foods like chips and sweets.
  • Use smaller plates. This will automatically decrease your portions sizes and also create the illusion that you have eaten a full plate of food, making you feel satisfied faster.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Not only does alcohol impair your judgement, it also dehydrates your body and contains massive amounts of hidden kilojoules, especially in pre-mixed spirit coolers.
  • If you are a smoker, try to quit. Smoking causes irreparable damage to your body and it is one of the leading causes for lung cancer and other serious medical conditions.


Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Hospital Division
Contact:    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Pieter Rossouw
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:    [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]