Rude health: Longer-life recipes
Becoming the latest supercentenarian has never been easier, says Maurice Gueret, as he works on his skincare routine
The world and its newspapers are all talk of supercentenarians. These longevity games are getting very competitive. In March, a Japanese lady named Misawo Okawa became just the fifth person in recorded history to reach the age of 117.
Eight hours sleep a night, coupled with occasional siestas and mackerel sushi were cited as contributing factors. But Mrs Okawa had barely blown out all 117 candles when, on April Fool's Day, death, in the guise of heart failure, visited her Osaka nursing home. Across the Pacific ocean, an African American lady by the name of Gertrude Weaver stepped into the breach. Almost 100 years after her wedding, this doughty resident of an Arkansas Nursing Home became the world's oldest woman at 116. But a bout of pneumonia shortened her reign to just six days. Enough for the world's media to tell everyone that Gertrude's secret recipe was hard work, plenty of moisturiser, being nice to people and avoiding fast food.
Doctors are no better than newsmen at predicting which specimen patients will live to the ripest age. Most of us are wise enough not to pontificate about absurd longevity 'secrets'. Habits have little to do with it. I prefer to talk of the four Gs - Gender, Genes, Geography and Good Luck. A quick look at the chart of the 100 verified oldest people tells us that women do infinitely better than men - the top 10 are all ladies. The United States, Canada and Japan dominate the league table, with only occasional entries from western Europe. These include Madame Jeanne Calment of France, who topped the lot by reaching the grand old age of 122 and a half. Mme Calment was the first centenarian in the family, but her brother nearly reached 100 and her dad got to 92. It's in the genes. Madame ate a mountain of chocolate all her life, loved a bottle of Port, used olive oil on her skin and gave up smoking at the age of 117. Now that's good luck, if you ask me.
Public heath research
Public-health doctors can be a breed apart from ordinary medics. They exist mainly between the cosy hours of nine to five and patients with real illnesses rarely darken the doorways. Most are employed by government departments or health authorities. Research is high on the agenda and agenda-ridden research is most popular of all. In the UK, public-health doctors are now measuring the 'health' of streets, towns and cities. Residents of Shrewsbury, Salisbury and Hereford are doubtless delighted to be in their latest top five, but the local authorities of Preston, Middlesbrough and Blackpool have drawn short straws and rank bottom of the slag heap. Doctors have been scouting these boroughs and their high streets, counting the number of good premises and dividing it by the number of bad premises. Towns with payday lenders, tanning salons, slot machines, takeaways and bookmakers receive low marks. High streets with 'health promoting' premises such as leisure centres, galleries, pharmacies, libraries and health centres get better grades and an official seal of approval. You may be surprised to find that pubs were rated as beneficial as they help to combat social isolation and mental ill health. According to the Royal Society of Public Health, men feel able to "open up" and "talk about their emotions" in a pub context. Good places for public-health doctors to conduct research over liquid lunch too.
Doctors can be rash about judging fast food. It's the quantity of it and frequency of consumption that is problematic. A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition has found that tired athletes recover their mojo just as well from eating fast food as they do from energy bars or sports supplements. Sports physiologists in the University of Montana conducted small trials on about a dozen cyclists, who were asked to ride for 90 minutes, rest for four hours, and then ride 20 kilometres in a time trial. Those who ate small portions of chips, hamburgers and hash browns after the first session had the exact same results as those who took 'energy' products.
Cures and remedies
I am inundated with tales of cures and remedies, and apologise if I don't always get back to readers in person. Michelle told me a sad story about an aunt of hers who, in the 1940s, contracted whooping cough at the age of four. She would "leap off the bed" with every cough, right up to the moment she passed away. The child's mother was a midwife who resorted to a final and desperate course of action - tying a loose red ribbon around the child's neck, alas to no avail. Michelle tells me that this story was regularly told in her house to ensure that everyone knew what a miracle vaccination was when it came.
Another reader tells me of a late-November evening visit to a man in the Longwood area of Meath with an unvaccinated toddler who had succumbed to a bad dose of whooping cough. The man's little cottage was "in the middle of nowhere" and he had a glass of water with what looked like a wooden peg in it. After praying over it, the sick child then had to take nine sips of water from the glass. The man said the little girl would be sick once more and then she would get better. A small donation was left at the house and the girl got sick on the car journey back to Dublin and went on to make a full recovery. A sceptical husband said she was probably on the mend anyhow, but his wife tells me that to this day she knows better! The daughter is now hale and hearty in her mid-30s.
Dr Maurice Gueret is author of 'The Doctor's Case'
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