Saturday 7 December 2019

Want to live longer?

Library image
Library image

Then get on yer bike, go to Mass, have lots of sex and quit fretting about getting old, writes Darragh McManus.

The jogging craze really kicked off in earnest in the late 1970s, with the publication of Jim Fixx’s famous Complete Book of Running. Getting moving was seen as something of a health-giving panacea. And although Fixx himself died young, ironically while running, his death was attributed to several other factors outside of exercise.

Jogging, all evidence suggested, was good for you in moderation. And Fixx has been vindicated once more with news from Denmark that jogging for as little as one hour a week can add an amazing six years to your life (averaging out the exact figures: 5.6 years for women, 6.2 for men).

Researchers in Copenhagen also found, interestingly, that the most benefit came from a slow or average pace — just enough to cause slight breathlessness — rather than vigorous exercise.

Life expectancy is, of course, rising all the time in the developed world, with better nutrition and medical science. But on the flipside, changing lifestyles and bad habits are eating away into those gains too.

Here are some of the ways in which you can live a longer life — and some ways you may be bringing yourself closer to the grave…

Work out every day

A study of 5,000 middle-aged and elderly Americans found that moderate-to-high levels of exercise fought off heart disease. Oscar H Franco, of the Erasmus MC University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, who led the study, said: “Being more physically active can give you more time.” Going to the gym has a range of health benefits, from keeping your weight down and fighting off illness to improving quality of life as you age. More info:

Get married

Getting hitched makes you live longer — for men, at least. Life expectancy for men rises by threequarters of a year once married. Researchers in Australia studied 3,000 married men and women, and tracked their health for 15 years. It’s thought that this increase in longevity is because married men feel happier and more secure, possibly because marriage plays into deep-rooted instincts about their role in life. More info: Serious stress Everyday stress can knock years off your life, according to experts at the University of California. They tested 58 women and found that, due to stress, their immune systems had undergone the equivalent of a decade’s worth of ageing. Constant heightened levels of cortisone and adrenaline — the so-called ‘fight-or-flight’ response to stress — can lead to obesity, insomnia, digestive problems, cirrhosis of the liver, lung disease and depression, among many other health issues.

More info:

Go to church

It probably won’t convince the atheists among us of its worth, but according to research carried out by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Centre, weekly religious attendance can add between two and three years of life. The results were published in an American medical journal. Team leader, surgeon Daniel Hall, pointed out the the benefits may be accruing from the social aspect rather than any miraculous healing powers of faith.

More info: 2305-mass

Negative attitude towards ageing

Yale professor Becca Levy has found that negative thoughts about growing old can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and kill you years before your time. In a study published by the American Psychological Association, she interviewed a number of middle-aged people six times over 20 years, and found the more optimistic and philosophical lasted longest. Depression, anger and a sense of unfairness about ageing might be caused by subconscious programming in the brain.

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Cycle briskly

Hopping on your bike has many obvious benefits: it’s less hassle than a car, bikes are cheaper to buy and virtually free to run, not to mention being kinder on the environment. And if done at a quick clip, it can also help you extend your life. A study of cyclists in Copenhagen found that men who cycled briskly lived more than five years longer than slower cyclers; for women the increase was four years.

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More vitamin D

Findings published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that doubling the levels of vitamin D in your bloodstream will boost life expectancy by two years. A wide-ranging study by Dr WB Grant, of San Francisco’s Sunlight, Nutrition and Health Research Centre, looked at diseases which can be offset by vitamin D, including cancer, diabetes and heart ailments. He recommended taking supplements, eating vitamin D-rich foods and getting more sunshine. More info:

Poor education levels

A long-running study of more than 500 men, by George Vaillant, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, found that Harvard students lived a decade longer than inner-city Bostonians who left education early. Vaillant’s team concluded that leaving school at a young age was linked to heavier drinking and smoking, higher levels of drug use, obesity, less motivation, and a more cavalier attitude to one’s health.

More info: 2305-education

Eat ‘power foods’

A daily handful of dark chocolate and almonds, plus plentiful consumption of old reliables such as garlic, fish, whole grains and fruit and veg, can increase your life by four years, according to research in the British Medical Journal. They’re variously rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, antioxidants and other nutrients that reduce the risk of heart disease by 76pc, and breast cancer by 22pc. And best of all, even a glass of wine makes the list. Bottoms up.

More info: 2305-powerfood


Cigarette smokers die, on average, a full decade younger than non-smokers, according to a half-century study published in the British Medical Journal. Sir Richard Doll, Professor of Medicine at Oxford, launched the study in 1951. He looked at other doctors who smoked, and found that 50pc of them were eventually killed by their habit. But there is some good news: quitting at the age of 50 halves the risk, and binning the fags by 30 avoids almost all of it.

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Exercise for just 15 minutes

A quarter-hour of moderate exercise every day is all that’s needed to add a further three years to your life, according to a major study in Taiwan. Its National Health Research Institute says that anyone can benefit from, for instance, a brisk walk of 15 minutes. The study, published in The Lancet, tracked almost half a million people for 13 years, and found that daily exercise lowered rates of cancer deaths to one person in 10. More info:

Being overweight

Health studies of around 900,000 people found that adults who are obese — 40lbs or more overweight — shorten their lives by three years, due to risk of stroke and heart disease. Every five-point increase in Body Mass Index increases the chances of early death by 30pc. Oxford University researcher Richard Peto likened obesity to a lifetime of heavy smoking.

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Too much television

Our mammies and daddies were right all along: TV is bad for you, shortening your life by 22 minutes for every hour spent glued to the goggle-box. A study in Australia worked out that an average of six hours a day cuts almost five years off life expectancy. Watching telly is a sedentary pursuit, with resultant problems with your heart, immune system and weight levels. The British Heart foundation says: “It’s good to relax for a while, but too much of it can be bad for our health.”

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Have sex regularly

Being sexually active — defined as doing the deed two or three times a week — stretches your life expectancy from three years to eight. It works by halving your risk of heart disease and stroke. Sex is good exercise, helps to release beneficial hormones, improves mental health, reduces stress, burns an average of 200 calories, lowers blood pressure, improves immunity and aids better sleep.

More info: 2305-regularsex

Eat much less

It sounds strange, because food is so clearly necessary for the survival of life, but severely restricting your calorie intake can drastically increase your longevity. (This is assuming that basic nutritional needs, such as minerals, proteins and fatty acids, are taken care of.) Trials on animals show a startling correlation between calorie drop and age rise: for every 1pc less you eat, you could live 1pc longer.

More info: 2305-eatless

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