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5 steps to a long life (and 2 routes to a shorter one)

There are more centenarians than ever before as life expectancies increase worldwide. Here are 5 simple steps that you can take to help ensure you live a long, healthy life

Getting that letter from the queen on your 100th birthday is no longer the pipe dream it once was. In fact, in the last 30 years, the number of centenarians in Britain has increased five fold, say the Office of National Statistics.

103-year-old Julia ‘hurricane’ Hawkins recently took home gold in the 100-metre race after competing in the 2019 Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is now the oldest female competitor in the US – and she didn’t even start running until she was 100.

As it turns out, both diet and behaviour have a significant impact on the length of your life. By following a few simple steps, we could all be competing in races well into our 100s.

The burgeoning field of longevity research has identified the ways our lifestyles can both lengthen and shorten our lives.

ADD: 15 years

Eat a Mediterranean diet

5 steps to a long life - mediterranean diet
The Mediterranean diet includes wholegrains, fish, olive oil, fresh fruits and vegetables.

A diet rich in fresh fish and fruit and vegetables in every hue along with plenty of olives, olive oil, nuts and wholegrains could add 15 years to your life, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Scientists now believe it can go a long way in helping preventing the two most common causes of death in the UK – heart disease and cancer. Still not sold? Further research has found it can lower your risk of Alzheimer’s by a staggering 40 per cent.

TAKE AWAY: 10 years

Get fat

Being overweight is the one thing most likely to shorten your life, says Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Centre in the US and author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Programme.

Moderate obesity reduces lifespan by three years and the seriously obese live ten years less than their slimmer counterparts, found a definitive study from Oxford University printed in medical journal The Lancet.

Overweight is defined by the NHS as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25 or over while about one in five of us with a BMI over 30 will be classified as obese. Calculate your BMI with this snazzy calculator.


Be hardworking

You might think laid back types would win the long life sweepstakes but in fact, it’s the hardworking, swottish ones that can hope to add about three years to their lifespans.

They’re the findings of a unique study that followed 1528 gifted children from their births in the early 1920s to their deaths. Results were published in the fascinating book The Longevity Project: surprising discoveries for health and long life from the eight decade study.

Other findings from the study? Marriage lengthens life for men but has little effect on the lifespans of women and in both genders, those with strong social ties had longer lives.

TAKE AWAY: 5 years

Overdose on TV

5 steps to a long life - watch tv
Researchers estimate every hour people over 25 spent watching TV could shave nearly 22 minutes off their lives

Love that Netflix subscription more than life? It could cost you in years. In an analysis of Australian data published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers estimated every hour people over 25 spent watching telly could shave nearly 22 minutes off their lives. Ouch.

What’s more, the researchers observed people who watched six hours or more television a day shortened their lives by five years. The authors suggest keeping your telly watching down to two hours a day or less for maximum health.

ADD: 3 Years

Move for 15 minutes a day

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently declared health was one of the big selling points of the new Apple Smartwatch, set for release this year. It will, he said, beep three times to encourage users to get up and move around every hour because ‘sitting is the new cancer’.

While that could make for interesting work meetings, as usual, Apple are onto something. Experts are now asserting you don’t need to spend hours in the gym exercising to live a longer life.

A team of researchers in Taiwan observed 400,000 people’s activity and found that only 15 minutes of daily exercise – brisk walking or light jogging – could increase lifespan by three years.

Think about it. If you got up and walked around the office for two minutes each hour you’re at work, you might well annoy your colleagues. But by day’s end, you’d have clocked up enough minutes in movement to extend your life. So who’ll be laughing come 2065?

Only 15 minutes of daily exercise – brisk walking or light jogging – could increase lifespan by three years.

Physical activity regulates hormones such as insulin-like growth factor and oestrogen and affects the rate food passes through the bowel which can subsequently lower risk of cancer and other diseases.  Want more benefits? Add some strength training a few times a week, suggests Professor Gary Small.

This can mean just 20 minutes of resistance training using your own body weight in a circuit style workout, lifting light weights or using resistance bands.

Having strong muscle tone helps reinforce the structures that support your bones, like concrete does the foundations of your house, thus helping prevent fractures in old age. But it could also ease your grey matter into happier twilight years with faculties intact.

‘Research is now finding exercise might also improve brain function as we age,’ Professor Small explains. ‘Add some balance training such as yoga, tai chi or qi going twice weekly, which also helps balance and prevent falls in later life and you’re on your way to a healthy old age.’

ADD: 5 years

Have a little wine, often

5 steps to a long life - drink wine
1 to 2 drinks per day may improve cholesterol and benefit the cardiovascular system.

Here’s a good news story for you. Moderate drinking really may increase lifespan, say researchers from the University of Texas. Specifically, 1-2 drinks a day may improve blood cholesterol and have benefits to your cardiovascular system. But don’t overdo it. When it comes to alcohol, a little might be good for you but a lot can be devastating.

‘Anymore than 1-2 drinks daily has negative effects on the heart and blood pressure along with weight from the excess calories,’ says Tracy Parker, a dietitian with the British Heart Foundation.

We don’t want to bring you down but do bear in mind that drinking too much also increases your risk of several cancers including breast, colon and liver, according to The American cancer Society whose useful guidelines for cancer prevention recommend men stick to two drinks or less a day and women to just one.

ADD: 7.5 years

Have friends (especially healthy ones)

Socially connected people live on average seven and a half years longer than their more isolated counterparts, research published in the journal PLOS Medicine has found.

Socially connected people live on average seven and a half years longer than their more isolated counterparts.

But what’s even more interesting, says Dan Buettner, a longevity researcher and author of the landmark book Blue Zones: Lessons for living longer from the people who’ve lived the longest  looking at the habits of the world’s most long-living people, is that we know from long-term studies of large populations that happiness, smoking and obesity are all contagious.

Not that you’d judge anyone on their appearance of course, but Buettner does point out that ‘If three of your best friends are obese, there’s a 70 per cent chance that you will be overweight too.’ Just saying, of course.

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