Clement Freud, a British politician, broadcaster and grandson of Sigmund Freud, observed in 1964 that, “If you resolve to give up smoking, drinking, and loving, you don’t actually live longer; it just seems longer.”
n the decades since, it’s been drummed into us that a 40-a-day cigarette habit and gallons of beer are not conducive to a long life. Thanks to lifestyle changes, a better diet, surgery and drugs such as statins and antibiotics, our life expectancy has shot up.
A baby boy born in Ireland today is now expected to live to an average of 78.3 years, while a baby girl will live to 83. But according to a new report by the UK’s Longevity Science Panel, if people followed a healthy lifestyle while still young, one in four could live well until the age of 100 and some could have a life expectancy of 120.
Rose Anne Kenny, a consultant in geriatric medicine at St James’s Hospital and a professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, says similar expectations for longevity apply to Ireland.
“Year on year, the Irish are living by an average of three months per year longer, and some could live up to 120 years,” says Kenny, who oversees the Irish Longitudinal study on Ageing, which is tracking the health of 8,500 people over 50. “There are statistics to show that the first person who will live to 120 has already been born.
“The other good news is that disability rates are also declining. Even though we are living longer, the projected period of the number of years of that extended lifespan we spend with some disability are declining.”
Your genes account for between 25pc and 30pc of your lifespan, according to Kenny, but there are also many keys to longevity that are totally within your control. The following activities, backed by scientific research, won’t turn back the clock, but they have been shown to improve healthy ageing.
1 Eat less
Experiments have shown that a calorie-restricted diet can slow the ageing process and make people less prone to disease, though research has not been carried out on humans for ethical reasons and is not recommended for those already older and frail. The Institute of Healthy Ageing at University College London found that the life of a rat was increased by up to a third when its diet was cut by 40pc.
2 Get a dog
Your four-legged companion can help you keep heart disease at bay by reducing stress, increasing physical activity and improving social contact. Queen’s University in Belfast reviewed dozens of studies on the subject and concluded that dog owners enjoy a longer and healthier life than the rest of the population.
3 Be positive
In the pioneering Nun Study, researchers analysed essays written by 678 nuns from when they first entered seven American convents in the 1930s and 1940s. They discovered that the nuns who had articulated the most positive emotions were likely to live at least 10 years longer than the least cheerful nuns.
4 Stay connected
Meet regularly with the family, friends, neighbours, and colleagues who make you feel relaxed and happy. People with stronger social relationships have a 50pc greater chance of enjoying a long life than those with weak ones.
5 Sip wine
Drinking a little less than one glass of red wine a day has been linked to a lower rate of cardiovascular death than for teetotallers.
6 Exercise every day
You don’t have to endure extreme exercise to reap the benefits for your lifespan. Compared with sitting all day, even physical activity such as gardening and housework can add years to your lifespan, if done regularly. Running just five to 10 minutes a day, even at less than six miles an hour, cuts your risk of heart disease by 58pc, bringing the overall risk of death down by 28pc.
7 Postpone retirement
Kenny says: “Working for longer — if you enjoy it, it’s good for brain and your work is useful — is important. People who retire earlier get dementia earlier. However, it’s important you do this out of choice, because if you are button-holed or forced into a work environment, you don’t live as long.”
8 Have more sex
One to two orgasms a week can boost the body’s infection-fighting cells by up to a third, according to a study conducted by Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, research in Wales found that men who had at least two orgasms a week were half as likely to die over its 10-year study than those who experienced less pleasure.
9 Eat lots of fish
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish such as salmon, mackerel and trout is connected to two-year increase in lifespan, a study of more than 2,600 adults and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed. Experts recommend consuming at least two 3.5-ounce servings of oil fishy every week.
10 Take lifespan-enhancing drugs
Statins, which help lower cholesterol levels, have a large impact on longevity and can cut the risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke by 30pc. The drugs also have anti-inflammatory powers, though the researchers who were questioned by the Longevity Science Panel were divided on whether healthy people should take them to prolong their lives. The same goes for the drug rapymicin; the compound, known to regulate cell division, is used to prevent the immune system from rejecting transplanted organs and to stop blood clots forming in arteries, but there are concerns its side-effects for healthy patients could outweigh the benefits.