Most people want to live to a ripe old age in good health, but they’re not sure how to go about it. Pushups can help. A study published on the Jama Network(1) this year revealed that men who can do 40 pushups in a session had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks compared with those who only managed 10. But the most potent way to improve your long-term health and promote longevity is also easy, and it can be free: it’s called exercise.
Here’s a test of your chances of longer life: Can you go from a sitting position on the floor to standing without using your hands? If you’re over 50 and can still do it, your chances are good. Grip strength is another indicator of a long life, but if you don’t like either of those, try walking faster. The quicker you can walk in your older years, the longer you will live if you keep it up.
UCLA School of Medicine’s professor of medicine and psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, Steve Cole, says one way of thinking about longevity is that it isn’t some magic property of the body, but the lucky state of not having a fatal disease. Professor Cole told the Washington Post’s Christie Aschwanden that people don’t die of being old; they die of a disease. So, studying longevity is a way of looking at the risks, or how fast or slowly the disease develops.
Screening health programs such as HealthScreen check for diseases and health conditions before there are any signs or symptoms. Such proactive approach identifies the risks that are likely to reduce your life expectancy, identifies your risk of future disease and creates a personalized program to improve your health and maintain an active lifestyle.
Prof Cole says the tests such as pushups and walking etc. aren’t what make you live longer; what will help is if you are agile enough to do them. The tests are indicators of things that are necessary for a long healthy life: overall good health, muscle strength and fitness. And someone out of shape walks slower than a fitter person, and people with weak muscles and bones find it hard to get up off the floor.
Mayo Clinic physician and human physiology researcher, Michael Joyner, says frailty in middle age is very bad, and it’s even worse as people age. No drugs or nutritional supplements have yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration or Australia’s Therapeutic Drugs Administration to make us live longer, although research continues. But that doesn’t mean you can’t grow old in good health and live longer if you follow the advice below.
Anti-ageing researchers say there will never be a pill that can replace exercise, which is the best longevity medication there will ever be. The founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, Laura L. Carstensen, says nothing compares to exercise, and remarkably, you don’t need to do 10,000 steps a day to reap the health and anti-ageing benefits. Daily exercise of only 10 to 15 minutes is enough. Starting from no activity to just a bit is where you get rewards like a reduction in diabetes and heart disease risk. Then you gradually ramp it up to an hour, then the benefits level off. After that, people generally exercise for other reasons than health. You don’t need to run a marathon, according to research(2).
Iowa State University epidemiologist Duck-Chul Lee(3) says you could decrease your mortality by around 30 per cent by running just under 10 minutes a day. But you don’t have to run to boost your longevity. Walking and other moderate activities are equally as good, plus your brain works better if you exercise, which is better than sitting down playing games, according to Carstensen.
A study(4) in Neuroscience in 2006 found that the brain stays healthy when spurred on by exercise to release growth factors that trigger new connections between neurons. And other research(5) suggests that some age-related changes to muscles can be reversed by strength.
Sleeping well can help you live longer. While you sleep, your brain clears out the metabolic waste you’ve built up while awake, according to a study(6) by the University of Rochester Medical Center led by Maiken Nedergaard.
Most people know that if they have a terrible night’s sleep, their mood and concentration suffers. But few realise a lack of sleep or too much can affect their metabolic health. Many studies on sleep deprivation show it can reduce insulin sensitivity and increase the risk of diabetes. On the other hand, sleeping for 14 hours a night isn’t healthy, either(7). Most sleep researchers agree that seven or eight hours a night is good, although Carstensen says it’s just a “best guess” based on the data. Sleep trackers are often inaccurate, and it’s not wise to fixate on the numbers since that could set up an anxiety cycle about it which could keep you awake, she suggests.
None of the anti-ageing superfoods and diets gets a tick from science. And while lab animals live longer when their calories are restricted, it isn’t clear that it would work in humans. However, there is a lot of evidence that overeating isn’t healthy. There have been some interesting findings in some smaller studies, according to Joyner, although he questions whether it would be sustained over time. Metabolic health is vital for long-term health since it keeps diabetes at bay. Carstensen considers a heart-healthy Mediterranean diet of fish, healthy fats such as olive oil, vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and limiting red meat is probably the best way to improve longevity. Even so, the benefits are only moderate. Takeaway food is full of the wrong fats, and far too much sugar and salt to be classed as anywhere near healthy.
The jury is still out on alcohol and longevity. We know that heavy drinking too much alcohol, which means more than one or two drinks a day is unhealthy and will shorten your life. Most red wine lovers latched onto the 1980s studies into the low rates of coronary heart disease in France – where red wine is king. But Carstensen says alcohol studies are like nutrition studies which are based on self-reports, and researchers know people are not good at self-reporting – there’s no way of knowing what people are consuming, or what other things they’re doing.
Meanwhile, recent research(8) has found that the risk of coronary heart disease may be reduced by drinking a moderate amount of alcohol, and a clinical trial in Israel found that drinking a glass of red wine with dinner every night showed some improvements in blood markers associated with cardiovascular disease risk in people with Type 2 diabetes.
But other studies show that any amount of alcohol could heighten the risk of many cancers, with a report (9) in the Lancet last year revealing that any amount of alcohol consumption does not improve health. However, there’s evidence that those who don’t drink alcohol may be less healthy than those who drink a little. But Carstensen says their lack of health might have nothing to do with a lack of alcohol, but other lifestyle factors, and since most studies depend on inherently unreliable consumption figures, they could fail to account for other factors.
Stress can shorten your lifespan. Researchers now know that conditions suffered by older people, such as heart disease, dementia, and cancers all have one thing in common – inflammation. The body produces inflammation to heal wounds, but when the body is under siege or is suffering from a chronic disease or is stressed, the inflammation is ramped up. Chronic stress sufferers likely to result in harmful biological changes are those experiencing prejudice, living in poverty, losing a loved one, caring for a dying spouse, or suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and ageing. While it’s not so easy to eliminate stress, there are ways to manage it, including meditation, tai chi, yoga and mindfulness. However, these strategies don’t seem to make a big difference.
The most powerful way to diffuse stress is connecting with other people. Carstensen says people with strong relationships live longer than those who are socially isolated. A 2015 meta-analysis(10) showed loneliness was linked to a 29 per cent increase in mortality risk and social isolation to a 26 per cent increase. Living alone was associated with a 32 per cent increased risk. The research was clear that a markedly lower risk of death was found in people with healthy social connections, a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Such a purpose could be gardening, taking care of grandchildren or animals, e.g.
It turns out our genes are responsible for only 10 to 15 per cent of the reasons we live longer. In his book(11) Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying) Bill Goffors says older people in good health seem to have arrived there by accident. One hundred year-olds often show a combination of good luck and good genes in that they dodged cancer, heart attacks and car accidents. Research suggests that factors such as demographics or environments could explain why longevity runs in families. Race, your postcode at birth and gender are the most potent indicators of a long life, Carstensen says. Longer life is connected with being female, highly educated, and coming from a wealthy family.
The goal of a screening program is to detect diseases such as cancer at an early stage when cure rates are much higher. Such screening programs and early prevention are effective in increasing life expectancy and longevity. HealthScreen is the most Advanced Medical Screening and Early Diagnosis Centre in Australia.
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- http://1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2724778
- http://2. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(16)00068-9/fulltext
- http://3. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(16)00068-9/fulltext
- http://4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0306452206003228