8 ways to prolong your life right now
Gabrielle Monaghan takes a look at eight simple ways in which you can live a longer and happier life
Published 17/06/2014 | 02:30
Maureen Armstrong has just run the Dublin Women's Mini-Marathon for the 20th time. The Tipperary woman's dedication to the 10k race is all the more remarkable for the fact that she is 89.
The great-grandmother has the recipe for a long, healthy life down to an exact science. She walks three miles a day (praying as she goes), attends dances every fortnight, eats very little, has never drank or smoked, and rarely sits down to watch television.
"I never sit down, just keep on going," she says. "I have dinner in the middle of the day, maybe a bit of mashed potato with bacon and cabbage."
Like Maureen, the Irish are living longer, often with the help of better nutrition and medical advances. Life expectancy at birth in Ireland in 2011 was 83.2 years for women, or 0.4 years above the European Union average, as calculated by Eurostat. While Irish men die younger, with a life expectancy of 78.8 years, they live almost two years longer than EU average.
Indeed, our lifespan has grown by 20 years over the last six decades, according to Professor Donal O'Shea, a consultant in endocrinology at St Vincent's Hospital and director of the weight management clinic at St Columcille's Hospital in Loughlinstown. The last census showed there were 389 people aged 100 or over, almost 13 times the number in 1951. A total 85pc of those centenarians are women, a trend attributed to the female proclivity for taking better care of their health and visiting the doctor more frequently than men.
Yet, Irish lifespans still lag behind countries such as Japan and Italy, where women live to an average 86.4 years and 84.4 years, respectively. The benefits of drinking green tea and eating raw fish are extolled in a new study showing Japanese women live longer than any others
Genetics are a factor in longevity – if your grandparents lived to the ripe old age of 95, there's a chance you will too. Diet and lifestyle choices are thought to play a more dominant role, not only in how long you live but how well you will age.
There are obvious ways to add years to your life, such as by not smoking or drinking excessively.
Here are eight of the other ways you can prolong your life, based on the latest research:
1. Eat less
Scientists have known for 77 years that the one sure-fire method of extending the lives of animals is to cut calories by an average of 30pc to 40pc.
The people of Okinawa, the subtropical Japanese archipelago of 161 islands – and home to the longest-living people on Earth – typically eat fewer than 1,200 calories a day. Overall, the Japanese consume about 25pc fewer calories than the average Westerner and everyday food is simple and low in fat.
Like the Italians, the Japanese take their time eating a meal. Food is not hoovered up, but consumed daintily. They use chopsticks to eat tiny amounts on small plates. This slackens the process of eating and reduces calorie intake.
"At the age of 25, you need to consume between 1,600 to 2,200 calories a day but by 65, that falls to between 1,300 and 1,600 calories," says O'Shea. "A lot of people don't realise they need to cut down on calories as they get older."
2. Be a social butterfly
Research suggests that making regular plans with friends can help you to live longer by reducing feelings of depression, stress and risky behaviour, and encouraging you to look after your health.
According to a study at Flinders University in Australia, women with the highest number of close friends outlive those with the fewest by 22pc. A study by Utah's Brigham Young University went even further, concluding that a strong social network boosts your survival chances by 50pc.
3. Exercise daily, but not to extremes
Sitting around for long stints of time is one of the easiest ways of shortening your lifespan. A 2011 study found that for every hour people aged over 25 spend sitting down and watching TV, they are wiping 22 minutes from their overall life expectancy.
While runners generally enjoy longer lives and better health, research released by American cardiologists in April showed that even they can get too much of a good thing. Fitness fanatics and marathon runners who exercise strenuously for more than three hours a week unwittingly risk damaging their health.
Those who stuck to moderate workouts over two to three hours a week benefited more than people with extreme exercise routines and those who never exercised.
"You need to get an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day, 365 days of the year," says O'Shea. "Occasional extreme activity, such as a cycling race is fine, but if it's done every day it's not."
4. Start a sensible caffeine habit
Consuming caffeine from natural sources like coffee beans and tea leaves has a positive affect on our health, according to A Short Guide to a Long Life, a new book from LA cancer specialist David Argus, a celebrity doctor whose clients include Steven Spielberg. In moderation, caffeine may have protective anti-cancer properties.
5. Skip food with labels
Stick to real, unprocessed food because, with the exception of flash-frozen fruit and vegetables, anything that comes with labels detailing nutritional contents is probably best left on the supermarket shelf, Argus believes.
6. Eat more fish and drink green tea
Emulate the people of Okinawa by tucking into at least three servings of cold-water fish a week. Salmon, sardines, tuna, trout, anchovies, herring, halibut, cod, black cod, mackerel and mahimahi are excellent sources of high-quality protein, healthy fats and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals.
7. Have a small glass of wine with dinner
Moderate alcohol intake, especially from red wine, can cut your risk of heart disease. Aim for no more than one small glass a day for a woman and two for a man – drinking more can increase a woman's risk for breast cancer.
8. Develop a sense of purpose
No matter what your age, you can live longer if you have clear goals in mind rather than wandering aimlessly through life, according to research published in Psychological Science in May.
The researchers studied the health and well-being of Americans aged between 20 and 75 over the course of 14 years.
The participants who reported having a purpose in life were more likely to be among the 9pc still alive.