We all want to live longer – but we want extra life in our years, too! Dietitian Caitlin Reid reveals the lifestyle factors proven to help you live longer and avoid disease.
Add 17 years: Schedule in a daily chuckle
Picture being yelled at by an angry driver. Do you yell back, or laugh it off? Let’s hope the latter: research shows how stressful we perceive a situation to be greatly affects our likelihood of longevity. In fact, we accelerate our biological age by as many as 17 years just by being exposed to what we perceive to be highly stressful events for extended periods of time. But laughing for just 15 minutes a day can help – and you’ll get other benefits too, says laughter therapist Helene Grover. “Laughter boosts our immune system, lowers blood pressure, gives us a good cardiovascular workout, helps us recover from serious illness and kick-starts the production of endorphins, our natural painkiller.” Keep that in mind next time you’re choosing between a drama or comedy at the video store.
Add 6.6 years: Follow the Polymeal
In 2003, Professors Nicholas Wald and Malcolm Law introduced the concept of the Polypill: six different pills that, when combined, could reduce the risk of heart disease by 80 per cent. While the idea was welcomed by the medical community, the potential adverse effects and cost of such intervention was a concern. Then, in 2004, researchers from the Netherlands developed a more natural, safer and tastier alternative to the Polypill: the Polymeal. The Polymeal combined seven different ‘heart-friendly’ foods (400g of fruit and vegetables, 68g of almonds, 100g of dark chocolate, 150ml wine, 114g of fish and 2.7g of garlic), which, when taken together on a regular basis, was found to reduce cardiovascular disease risk by 76 per cent. This equated to an increase in total life expectancy of 6.6 years for males and 4.8 years in females! To get the benefits, add these foods to your diet – but remember, moderation is the key.
Add up to 4 years: Exercise with enthusiasm
Want to add four years of good health to your life, but sick of worrying about weight loss? Then push yourself a bit harder on your next walk. New research has found that people performing moderate-intensity exercise lowered their mortality risk by 43 per cent more than those who participated in low-intensity activity. Upping the intensity further will reduce mortality risk even more – 67 per cent to be exact! And yes – the benefits are entirely independent of weight loss.
Lower your risk: Keep your marriage alive
Staying married equals a longer, healthier life for both of you. A new study published in Social Science and Medicine, found that the early death rate for unmarried people is significantly higher than for those who are married and living with their spouse, thanks to a larger support network, pooled resources and having the liability of a partner (you’re less likely to have self-destructive habits like smoking or binge drinking if married). The study reports that unmarried women have a 50 per cent higher rate of early death, while unmarried men are nearly four times more likely to meet an early death. Another good reason to appreciate your spouse.
Lower your risk: Review your postcode
Carrying extra weight is a known risk factor for early mortality – being overweight or obese (as opposed to normal weight) increases your risk of all-cause mortality by 50 per cent. But now you can do something new about it – consider your postcode! According to research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people who lived amongst a high-density of fast-food outlets, gained 1.4kg and 2cm on their waist over a year. Living in an area that promoted walking environments, however, resulted in a 1.2kg and 1.6cm decrease in weight and waist respectively. Moving to a new suburb might not always be extremely practical, but you can still become aware of how your surroundings influence your weight – and take appropriate action.
Lower your risk: Buy a new toothbrush
Would you believe that people who brush and floss regularly are likely to live longer? Research shows people with gingivitis and periodontitis have a 23–46 per cent higher chance of dying early than those without gum disease. Incredibly, links have also been found between neglected pearly whites and increased risk of everything from heart disease and stroke, to osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes, because damaged gums create a passageway to the blood stream for proteins called ‘inflammatory mediators’, which impair the body’s ability to remove glucose from the blood. To add extra years to your life, make sure you brush, floss and have regular dental check-ups.
Lower your risk: Steam your leafy greens
It’s very good for you to eat your leafy greens raw – but according to a 2008 US study, steaming them provides even more benefits, by increasing their ability to bind to bile acid (acids that help break down fat) in the body. The higher the bile-acid-binding capacity, the more cholesterol-lowering benefits the leafy greens have, and the more beneficial they are to your health. In fact, eating more than three serves of leafy greens each week has been shown to lower heart disease by 66 per cent, when compared to less than one serve per week. Have some today.
Lower your risk: Toast to your health
While too much alcohol can cause everything from heart disease to liver disease, one or two alcoholic beverages can actually lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and lengthen your life by reducing the risk of death from any cause by 18 per cent. Enjoy some wine with your dinner – just don’t go overboard, as new Australian alcohol guidelines now recommend no more than two standard drinks per day for both men and women.
Lower your risk: Find the silver lining
Always look on the bright side of life and you’ll reap the longevity benefits. According to Dr Tim Sharp, clinical psychologist and director of The Happiness Institute, optimistic people are “less likely to suffer from stress, depression or anxiety, less likely to get sick, they recover from illness faster, they’re more likely to have good quality relationships, and they’re more likely to succeed in the work place.” That’s because they’re more likely to be constructive when confronted with problems or obstacles, he explains, meaning “they’re more likely to get through whatever is blocking their path.”
And yes, optimists may actually live longer: the Mayo Clinic in the US reports that people with a negative outlook have a 19 per cent increased risk of early mortality. So, change your thinking – there’s a silver lining in every cloud…
Moderate drinking + regular exercise + no smoking + five servings of fruit and vegetables each day = an extra 14 years.