Most people want to live longer healthy lives if they can. We all know the basic rules for looking after day to day health, and these can do a lot to lower the risk of a premature death, but what should we do if we want to extend our lives beyond average life expectancy? The answers may not be what you expect.
One of the biggest myths about longevity is that women naturally outlive men. In fact, there’s no biological foundation for this. Longevity has nothing to do with our sex chromosomes. What it has been found to be connected to is behavior which often differs according to gender. Bottling up emotion, which our society pressures men to do, makes a long life less likely, as does eating lots of red meat. Work, however, isn’t the short cut to death that many people think – as long as you have a job you enjoy, working hard actually increases your chances of a long life.
Eating a generally healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables, and drinking plenty of water, is a great start, but if you want to live for a really long time, there are key things you should include in your diet:
- Shell ginger – this is believed to be the key to Japanese longevity. It’s an easy vegetable to grow and can be used in stir fries and stews or eaten raw.
- Cheese – people who eat a lot of well-aged cheeses have faster metabolisms and have been shown to live longer.
- Blueberries – these delicious fruits reduce the risk of cardiac problems and also protect against common brain diseases.
- Chocolate – raw, dark chocolate has multiple health benefits, protects against cardiac problems and improves brain function.
- Coffee – two to three cups a day reduces the risk of cardiac problems, stroke and several types of cancers. Too much, however, can cause health problems.
Whatever you eat, you should be aware that obesity is a major risk factor for an early death, while periods of fasting or otherwise going hungry actually seem to increase longevity.
People who don’t exercise at all die, on average, four years sooner than other people (after other factors have been taken into account). The most important aspect of exercise, as far as life expectancy is concerned, is aerobic exercise, so you should aim to get your heart and lungs working hard for at least half an hour on at least three occasions each week. If you want to maintain your muscle and flexibility into old age, you should also do basic strength training and stretching exercises at least twice a week. Even if you face illness or disability, there will usually still be something you can do to exercise. Gentle walking or swimming can make a big difference.
No matter what you may have heard, positive thinking won’t make you live longer, and neither will romantic love. Happiness will, however, and so will having a healthy number of social contacts. Avoiding stress is a good idea but a little bit of worrying doesn’t seem to be a problem – at any rate, it’s less problematic than being bored. Feeling useful and intellectually fulfilled is linked to living a long life.
Is death just from old age inevitable? An increasing number of scientists don’t think so, and see age as a disease that can be understood and treated like any other. They’re working on developing anti-aging medicines that will enable people to live much longer, healthier lives. There are various possible routes through which to achieve this. The specialist Mikhail Blagosklonny, for instance, is studying the relationship between aging and cancer, while other scientists are mapping the genomes of long-lived people to compare them to average genomes and try to identify differences.
Reducing the risks
One thing you can do immediately to improve your chance of living a long life is to cut out factors that increase your risk of early death. Proportionally, very few really long-lived people are or have been smokers, and few of them have ever drunk heavily – both those factors massively increase the chance of dying from cardiovascular problems, stroke or cancer. Ongoing exposure to pollution is also a negative factor – you’re more likely to live for a long time if you have fresh, clean air to breathe.
Of course, some people break all the rules and simply get lucky, but luck isn’t a great thing to rely on. Why not see which of the above things you can incorporate into your life, and give it a helping hand?
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