So, you know the story: someone's Auntie Eileen lived happily and healthily until she was 99 despite the fact that she drank like a fish, smoked like a chimney, never exercised and lived on a diet of chips and cream buns. So why bother with healthy living if it's all down to our genes, right?
Well, it's one way of looking at things, but betting that you will be one of the lucky ones or indeed unlucky ones is like playing a game of Russian roulette, because, for every one person who lives a long life of unhealthy choices, there are countless others who die prematurely because of them.
It's estimated that only 25pc of how long we live is genetically determined. What you eat and how you live are crucial factors.
In other words, it's not the cards we're dealt but how we play them that determines the final outcome. In fact, most risk factors for the big diseases of our modern world – cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer's –are lifestyle related. They are affected by the food we eat, what we drink, whether we smoke, our stress levels and if we exercise.
Of course, not all age-related illnesses are avoidable, but diet along with other lifestyle choices will certainly improve your odds of adding years to your life, and life to your years.
When it comes to diet, there are no 'magic bullet' foods, so an all-round balanced diet is essential.
However, there are certain foods that deliver specific health benefits. These become even more important to our health as we age. Below are several foods that have been shown to have positive effects on common, age-related illnesses:
Apples and cholesterol
We're all familiar with the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", but, have you ever wondered why?
Well, one good reason is that apples contain a type of soluble fibre known as pectin. In the body, pectin has the ability to bind to cholesterol and carry it out of the body via the bowel.
And, the story doesn't end there. There is also a group of powerful chemicals present in the fruit called polyphenols which have the ability to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.
Most of the pectin and polyphenols are in the skin of the apple so never peel if you want to reap the cholesterol-lowering benefits.
Cinnamon and diabetes
It's estimated that nearly one in four adults has either type 2 diabetes or a condition known as 'pre-diabetes', which means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal and you're on a slippery slope towards developing diabetes.
Aim to have one teaspoon a day – just make sure that you don't swallow it all at once. Sprinkle a little over porridge, stewed fruit, smoothies and curries.
Beetroot and blood pressure
Beetroot is known to have a very beneficial effect upon blood pressure. It contains a chemical called nitrate, which our bodies convert into a compound called nitric oxide which acts as a powerful vasodilator. In other words, it widens blood vessels which allows blood to flow through more easily, bringing blood pressure down.