According the Office for National Statistics, over half a million people in the UK are at least 90 years old, and the number of centenarians has risen by 72% over the last ten years. So what can you do to help ensure you will live a long and healthy lifespan? While everyone knows the usual advice about not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, there are some lesser known approaches that will also help you age gracefully.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is when your body carries out vital repairs, replenishes proteins and regenerates cells. It is important to get not too much or too little, but just the right amount. When researchers followed 21,000 twins for over 22 years they found a clear association between longevity and sleep duration. Those twins who habitually slept for between 7 and 8 hours per night lived longer than those who tended to sleep for shorter or longer amounts. If you’re a bit of a slug-a-bed in the mornings, aim to get up earlier and achieve more during your day. An energising herb such as Rhodiola may help. If you have sleep difficulties try relaxation therapies and sleep-inducing supplements such as Valerian or 5-HTP
Eat more beans
Among older people, the food most closely associated with a long life is …. beans! An Italian study of almost 800 people aged 70 and over found that every 20g increase in average daily intake of beans was linked with an 8% lower risk of death at any age during the follow-up period. The protective effect was even higher than for fish or olive oil. Beans are a rich source of antioxidants, including those with rejuvenating hormone-like actions such as isoflavones. Add Red Kidney Beans, Pinto beans, Red lentils, Black beans, Blackeye peas, Soy beans and Chickpeas to salads, soups, stews and casseroles. Soy isoflavones supplements are available, too.
Switch to olive oil
Olive oil is a rich source of beneficial, monounsaturated fats and plant sterols which have beneficial effects on cholesterol balance by reducing levels of ‘bad’ oxidised LDL cholesterol and increasing desirable high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. These effects are most marked with extra virgin and virgin olive oils. Higher consumption of olive oil is associated with a lower risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Recent studies also suggest olive oil helps to protect against the age-related decline in blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk of neurological conditions such as dementia, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.
Drink more tea
Britain is a nation of tea drinkers, but do you have at least four or five mugs per day? A study of more than 130,000 adults, aged up to 95, found that the non-cardiovascular mortality rate was 24% lower in regular tea drinkers and they enjoyed better overall general health and activity levels. If you are watching your caffeine intake, then decaffeinated brand will still provide good amounts of beneficial antioxidants. Green tea extracts are also available in supplement form.
Eat an apple a day
I am to eat a large, juicy apple every day as, despite recent headlines to the contrary, there is clear evidence that eating an apple a day is associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, at any age. Apples – especially the skins – are rich in antioxidant flavonoids that lower blood pressure and protect against coronary heart disease and stroke. Eating apples is also linked with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, a lower LDL-cholesterol level and possibly even a reduced risk of cancer. As one of your five-a-day this is one of the easiest life-extending strategies to adopt.
Eat more fish
Omega-3 fish oils reduce inflammation and have anti-ageing benefits on virtually all parts of the body, including your eyes, joints, circulation, heart and brain. Populations with a high intake of oily fish have less heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and inflammatory illnesses than those with low intakes and therefore tend to live longer. Oily fish are an important component of the Mediterranean, Japanese and Inuit Diets – three ways of eating that are associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Scientists writing in the British Medical Journal predicted that regularly eating seven super foods can increase life expectancy by six and a half years for men, and five years for women which included eating a portion of fish (114g) four times a week. If you don’t like fish, omega-3 fish oil supplements are a good alternative such as Healthspan Super Strength Omega 3, 180 capsules for £17.95.
Exercise every day
Regular exercise reduces the number of age-related deaths from all causes by almost a quarter – even if exercise is not started until middle age. Daily physical exercise – at least 30 to 60 minutes of brisk walking or the equivalent – is particularly protective against heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer of the bowel or womb. Don’t overdo it, however. Studies show that light jogging for no more than 60 to 140 minutes per week was associated with a 30% lower risk of death during a twelve year study, but those who indulged in strenuous jogging had the same higher death rate as couch potatoes. If you are a jogger, the optimal frequency was two to three times per week at a slow pace.
Eat less over all
Restricting calorie intake is associated with a significantly extended life expectancy and healthy ageing, as observed among the inhabitants of Okinawa Island in Japan. Unfortunately, you will need to restrict calorie intakes to around two thirds of your normal daily needs to prolong your life by 20 to 40 years. Calorie restriction lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduces blood pressure and improves glucose control as well as reducing weight. It also protects against neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. It is important that dietary restriction does not involve a lack of micronutrients, however, so if cutting back on food intake, take a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Snack on nuts
Nuts provide protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals, isoflavones and antioxidants as well as healthy omega-3s and monounsaturated fats. Eating a handful of unsalted nuts per day (including walnuts peanuts, pecans, almonds, and macadamias) can improve coronary heart disease risk factors such as cholesterol balance, blood pressure and blood stickiness. The beneficial effect is so great that substituting just 28g of nut oils per day for the equivalent calories from carbohydrate can reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by 30%, while for women with type 2 diabetes the benefits are even greater with a 44% reduced risk. Scientists writing in the British Medical Journal advised eating a handful (68g) daily as part of a strategy to prolong lifespan.
People with a sunny outlook on life and who have an optimistic view of the ageing process tend to live an average of seven and a half years longer than those who indulge in negative thoughts. Smiling through adversity has been found to add more years to your life than not smoking, as it has a direct impact on your will to live as you get older. Interesting studies suggest that optimism improves immunity, reduces stress and is associated with a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer. Being positive also makes you nice to be around and attracts more rewarding experiences into your life.
Follow a more plant-based diet
Longevity is associated with longer telomeres – the protective caps on the end of your chromosomes that dictate how many times your cells can replenish themselves. Dietary analysis studies suggest that the longest telomeres are found in people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, vegetables as well as nuts, olive oil, garlic, moderate amounts of fish and less red meat. Those who most closely follow this way of eating might expect to live, on average, 4.5 years longer than those not following a Mediterranean diet.
Eat more garlic
Garlic provides a unique amino acid, allicin, which dilates arteries, reduces blood stickiness and protects heart cells from injury when oxygen levels are low. Results from ten trials suggest that garlic extracts can reduce blood pressure by an average of 16.3/9.3 mmHg in people with hypertension, while consuming the equivalent of 2.7g garlic per day is sufficient to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 25%. Scientists writing in the British Medical Journal recommended eating 2.7g garlic per day (around one clove) as part of a life-extending diet. Garlic extracts are also available in supplement form.
Enjoy a glass of wine
The same scientists advised in the British Medical Journal that drinking 150ml of red wine per day can extend lifespan. More than this has a detrimental effect on long-term health, however. Grape antioxidants reduce blood stickiness to help prevent unwanted blood clots and have beneficial effects on cholesterol balance. As a result, those who drink a daily glass of wine are 32% less likely to experience a heart attack than non-drinkers. Many of the protective antioxidants in grapes are colourless and there is no clear evidence that red wine is better than white for longevity.
Researchers from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle looked at supplement usage in over 77,700 people aged 50 to 76 and found that those taking glucosamine at least four days a week, for at least three years, were 20% more likely to survive the following eight years than non-users. Glucosamine appeared to reduce the risk of death from any medical cause, even after accounting for other factors such as smoking, weight, age, education, marital status, alcohol intake, physical activity, vegetable intake, cholesterol-lowering medication and HRT. Glucosamine is known to reduce inflammation which, as well as proving beneficial against joint pain may also protect against cancer, lung and heart diseases. Similar results were found for chondroitin.
Cut back on salt
Excess salt raises blood pressure partly by increasing fluid retention and partly through a direct effect on arterial walls and heart muscle. Studies involving a way of eating known as the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) show that people who consume the least salt have a blood pressure that is significantly lower than those with a high sodium intake. Restricting average salt intakes by 9g per day (eg from 12 grams to 3g daily) can reduce your risk of a heart attack by a quarter and your risk of a stroke by a third.
Get enough magnesium
A ‘good’ intake of magnesium is associated with a significantly smaller risk of death from any cause, and you don’t need high amounts. Those living longest obtained around 442mg/day from eating nutrient-dense wholefoods. It is believed to promote longevity through beneficial effects on blood pressure, blood clotting, blood vessel dilation and by protecting against abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure.
Floss your teeth
Some studies suggest that daily flossing can add over 6 years to lifespan as it reduces the gum inflammation that allows mouth bacteria to enter the circulation. These bacteria have been found in artery wall linings and are believed to hasten arterial disease to increase the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. Flossing will make you nicer to kiss, too.
Known as the Mushroom of Immortality, Reishi has been revered in China for over 3000 years to promote vitality and longevity. It is used medicinally to speed convalescence, regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the side-effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Reishi has antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties and has beneficial effects on blood clotting, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The mushroom is too woody for kitchen use, but supplements are available.
Talk to your doctor
If you have any niggling or persistent symptoms or concerns, it’s important to get these medically assessed. Regular health checks and screenings are important, too, as some conditions such as high blood pressure do not cause significant symptoms.
The best advice, of course, is to choose your parents carefully so you inherit longevity genes. But given that we currently have little control over the genes we’ve inherited, at least these tips can help you make the most of what you have. I can’t promise you will live to 100 as a result, but healthy living provides good stepping stones to help you on your way.
Dr Sarah Brewer is a medical nutritionist, nutritional therapist and the author of over 60 popular health books, including Live Longer, Look Younger (Connections) available via http://amzn.to/1SQb3th. Follow her Nutritional Medicine blog at www.DrSarahBrewer.com, her nutrition and recipe tweets @DrSarahB and her general health and fitness tweets @DrSarahBHealthy.Last modified: June 10, 2021