There are now almost 12000 centenarians living in the UK today, all of them with unique lifestyles. It’s therefore difficult for science to pinpoint any particular formula for successful ageing. The key appears to be less about just eating your fruit and veg and more about less tangible factors. So let’s look at some of the things long-lived people have in common, so we can decide for ourselves if we’re likely to (or would like to!) be one of them.
1. Laugh. The average adult laughs 5 – 15 times each day, compared to 100 giggles for children. Actively introducing more laughter into your daily life will do wonders for your body and mind, boosting the immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing stress hormones and increasing cancer-fighting cells. Now that should help you raise a smile!
2. Volunteer and be helpful. Research confirms that the ‘helpful high’ feelings people get from performing kind and generous acts reduces depression and stress levels, and strengthens our immune system, leading to a generally longer, and happier life. Be inspired by the remarkable 102 year old Nora Hardwick who posed naked as Miss November for a charity calendar. She is now 106 and continuing her philanthropic attitude to life, having fun and raising money for charities.
3. Pretend you’re a stork. Getting used to balancing on either leg for a short time will greatly strengthen the core muscles supporting your spine. As you age, this habit will pay dividends in terms of remaining active and protecting yourself against falls and broken bones.
4. Have sex twice a week – fun between the sheets is a great part of a healthy, active lifestyle, and has been shown to reduce the risk of dying prematurely, according to a study of Welsh men.
5. Eat red, green and yellow food. When it comes to food, think traffic lights! Green vegetables contain magnesium and other crucial nutrients which improve cellular function. Red food like tomatoes contain lycopene, essential for fighting cancer and heart-disease, and bananas are rich in potassium, a powerful longevity nutrient. Keep the food at room temperature and you will boost the nutrient levels even more.
6. Stop eating before you’re full. Lowering calorie intake is one of the most well-publicised ways to increase average life expectancy, up to 25 years according to some studies. This is due to less weight being carried around, as well as reducing stress on our metabolism. Try following the habit of the world’s most long-lived people, the Okinawans, by eating only until you’re 80% full.
7. Enjoy the sun. Basking in the sun feels great, and it’s suggested that we do more of it. Concerns over Vitamin D deficiencies has prompted medical officials to recommend around 15 minutes sun exposure around midday, without sunscreen. This will reduce our risk of potentially fatal diseases such as cancer and heart-disease.
8. Enjoy tea and wine. Although drinking too much alcohol can cause liver disease, small amounts of alcohol could actually improve life expectancy, according to a university study. Many centenarians report enjoying a tipple as part of their daily routine, for example 100 year old comedian George Burns enjoyed a martini, and 106 year old Nora Hardwick indulges in a whiskey each evening. If booze isn’t your thing, a good old cuppa is also packed with beneficial anti-oxidants, and research has shown those who enjoy a regular cup of tea live significantly longer than their tea-free contemporaries.
9. Be optimistic. A positive disposition can tend to lengthen your life, according to a 2011 study in Applied Psychology. The difference in how people interpret the same event can impact your brain chemicals and stress levels, actually altering the genes which control health and longevity. 108 year old Alice Herz-Sommer is the oldest living survivor of the holocaust, and cites her optimistic attitude as contributing to her long life: “For me it’s only the good things, never a bad thought”, she says.
10. Have a pet. Never a better reason for getting out and being active, having a dog to walk could add seven years to your life, according to a US study. You will also be adding to your dog’s longevity too!
11. Floss daily – if you think your mouth has got nothing to do with your body, think again. Research shows that people with gum disease are more likely to have inflammation of the arteries, an indicator of heart disease.
12. Walk up hills – studies continuously demonstrate how regular exercise improves physical and mental well-being, but hill-walking could be the best choice. Seven out of ten long-lived communities live on hills, giving the heart a great workout several times each week.
So are these the secrets to eternal youth? Perhaps. But maybe it’s more a handful of common attitudes and lifestyles which, if followed, may provide a happier life which is at least much more satisfying to live.
by Jessica Ward
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