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Slow reactions? Die sooner...

The faster your reactions, the less chance that you'll die in the foreseeable future. Epidemiologists at University College London discovered this when they studied 5134 adults aged 20-59. Fast reactions reduce the likelihood of dying, especially from a heart attack, stroke or heart failure.

The researchers measured the participants' reaction times using a test that is part of the Neurobehavioral Evaluation System 2. The participants had to press a button whenever a 0 appeared on the computer screen.

You can download or open a fancy version of the test the researchers used in your browser by clicking on the screenshot below. It's simple, amusing and only takes up 135 kilobytes.

Slow reactions? Die sooner...

Bobbing Bobcat represents an average score. Most people get a Sluggish Snail score the first time they do the test. You need to get used to how the test works - especially that you get penalty points if you click too soon to fire the dart.

After the researchers had measured the participants' reaction times they followed the participants for 15 years - and recorded who died.

The participants with a slower reaction time had a slightly higher chance of dying. The lower the reaction time, the greater the effect. The figure below shows that a slower reaction time had no effect on death from cancer, but did have an effect on death from cardiovascular disease.

Slow reactions? Die sooner...

The researchers suspect that the brain and nervous system don't get enough blood when arteries get clogged or the heart functions less well, and as a result reaction times get slower.

"Reaction time is thought to reflect a basic aspect of the central nervous system and speed of information processing is considered a basic cognitive ability or mental skill," said Gareth Hagger-Johnson, the first author of the study, in a press release. [ January 29, 2014.] "Our research shows that a simple test of reaction time in adulthood can predict survival, independently of age, sex, ethnic group and socio-economic background."

"Reaction time may indicate how well our central nervous and other systems in the body are working. People who are consistently slow to respond to new information may go on to experience problems that increase their risk of early death."

"In the future, we may be able to use reaction times to monitor health and survival. For now, a healthy lifestyle is the best thing people can do in order to live longer."

PLoS One. 2014 Jan 29;9(1):e82959.

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