These little lifestyle changes will help you feel great now-and age better in years to come. What’s not to like?
Follow the four ‘magic’ rules
It’s brilliantly uncomplicated: there are four simple rules that you can follow to maximise your chances of living longer. Okay, it’s not rocket science to guess what they are: drink moderately; keep physically active; eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day; and don’t smoke. But science has proved that following these rules really works. An encouraging study from Cambridge University of 20,000 people found that those who made these four healthy changes lived an average of 14 years longer. In fact, lifestyle seems to have much more impact then genes. Dr Thomas Perls from Boston University recently identified the genetic predictors of living to old age in his ground-breaking study of centenarians’ DNA. “It’s possible for most of us to live to a respectable 85 with the right lifestyle and optimum environment,” he explains. “Only after that do we see genes playing an increasingly important role.”
Do the day-on, day-off diet
It sounds strange, but eating less every other day could help you live longer. This goes back to caveman times, when hunting for food might mean going without for a few days; our metabolism struggles to cope with the relative over-indulgence of today. “Human studies have just begun, but we have reason to think the alternate-day diet switches on longevity and health-promoting genes,” says nutrition expert. “The deficit required is 30 per cent of the calories you’d have on a normal day-for example, shaving 600 calories off the government recommendation for women of 2,000.” That could mean foregoing one chocolate bar.
Feel the sun on your face
It’s well known that sunshine stimulates our body’s production of Vitamin D, but the importance of the so-called ‘sunshine’ vitamin is only just becoming clear. “The latest research has discovered that almost 3,000 genes have their activity boosted by Vitamin D”. “US scientists have also discovered a link between how far North Americans live and an increased risk of developing diseases such as colon cancer, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.” Sunlight is also essential for a good night’s sleep. “If you don’t have enough exposure to natural rhythm”. “There’s no ‘day’ phase to contrast with night, which is nature’s prompt for the release of melatonin.” The sleep-inducing hormone melatonin not only promotes a deeper and longer night’s sleep, but it also plays an important role in the body’s night-time repair process.
Keep your brain active
We may think of Alzheimer’s as an old person’s disease, but scientists now believe it can start 10 to 15 years before memory problems are obvious. There is, however, some good news. Keeping your brain active by, say, joining a pub quiz team or signing up for piano lessons, can prevent decline, since consistently challenging our brain seems to inhibit beta-amyloid (the destructive protein linked to Alzheimer’s). “Keeping the brain active by reading, doing puzzles and writing a diary doesn’t just slow the onset of Alzheimer’s, it could reduce the risk of it developing at all. And what of brain-training exercises? “While they’re fun, I haven’t seen much evidence they are more effective than any other mental activity”.
Eat well to beat the ageing genes
What you eat today will have major repercussions on the way you age later. “It’s like investing in a retirement fund; banking good habits in your thirties will help to safeguard your well being into your sixties and seventies”. The right foods can fight cancer, lower cholesterol and keep our brains younger for longer. Why? Because, rather like medicines, antioxidant-rich food contains chemicals that prompt reactions in our brains; eating the right ones can switch on our ‘longevity genes’. Don’t worry about investing in expensive ‘superfoods’: spinach, apples, broccoli, blueberries, grapes and the spice turmeric are all rich sources of antioxidants. “Top of your list to avoid are chips and anything that comes from a cow or a pig”. “They are proven to be key culprits in ageing the brain and body in a recent study of the consequences of dietary choices on the health of 122,000 men and women over a 20-year period.”
Balance your omega intake
Omega-3 has established a reputation as a superhero supplement particularly for boosting brainpower, so it’s not no surprise it’s good to keep omega-3 levels high. However, less attention has been paid to keeping omega-6 levels low. “Dietary fats are linked to inflammation and the rule of thumb is omega-3 reduces inflammation while omega-6 can promote it. We tend to think of inflammation as something that older people get or in terms of joint pain, but it’s also involved in the formation of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, insulin resistance and cognitive decline. So reducing inflammation could be key in slowing down the ageing process. As the British diet is far richer in omega-6 than omega-3, it’s likely your diet could be in need of a tune up.” That means reducing our consumption of processed food and upping our intake of oily fish such as salmon and mackerel and oils like rapeseed. While omega-3 supplements can help, diet wins. “Obtaining nutrients from their natural food state offers more real benefits, due to the complex blend of chemicals”.
Stop the stress cycle
Women are more likely to suffer stress than men. “Difference in brain chemistry make women more prone to low-level, but more permanent, states of worry or panic”. And it matters. New research shows that daily stress can speed up the ageing process and increase the risk of disease by triggering a cascade of hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. These raise levels of blood sugar, blood pressure and LDL (ie bad) cholesterol. The World Health Organisation has even recognised adrenal fatigue as a medical complaint. “When the body’s stress-handling adrenal system is asked to respond once too often to deadlines or endless to-do lists, it floods our system with excessive levels of stress hormones which cause adrenal reserves to dwindle”. She emphasises the importance of taking time out. “It’s hard to do, but whether you mediate, read or veg out, take 15 minutes a day to do nothing. If you can’t take 15, take five. If you can’t take five, take a minute that’s all about you.”
Take a blood-pressure test
Don’t imagine blood pressure is only a problem of middle-age-data from tests carried out by Lloyds Pharmacy show almost 50 per cent of under-35s has unhealthy blood-pressure levels. “It’s known as the ‘silent killer’ for a reason-high blood pressure rarely makes people feel ill, so often goes undiagnosed”. “Left untreated, it increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke.” Should you be worried? High blood pressure can run in the family, and obesity and smoking increase your risk. “Luckily, simple lifestyle changes, such as exercise, a balanced diet slow in salt, maintaing a healthy weight, medication, can lower your risk.”