Do you want to know how to live to 100? Or, do you perhaps want to live to 110 and become a super-centenarian? It may sound unlikely, but, according to the UK Government Actuary’s Department, babies born in just thirty years’ time will have an average life expectancy of 150!
Of course, there’s little point in living longer unless those extra years are healthy ones in which you retain much of your youthful physical and mental vigour. Fortunately, medical science is making great strides in preventing and treating serious illnesses. Each of these advances helps to extend our lifespan in small increments, buying extra time until the next breakthrough is perfected.
While living a long life isn’t something everyone aspires to, researchers have identified some key diet, lifestyle and emotional factors that can increase your chance of living to a ripe old age if you wish to fit more experiences onto your bucket list.
Fortunately, as a woman, the odds are already in your favour.
As a female, you already have a head start in the longevity marathon. Why? Because, women tend to live longer than men. In addition, if serious illnesses, such as heart attack or stroke occur, these tend to appear around a decade later than for males. As a result, 85% of centenarians are women.
This could be because we look after ourselves better, drink less, smoke less and avoid testosterone-fuelled dangerous sports. Another possibility is that we are more resistant to the effects of ageing due to the protective effects of oestrogen, which helps to maintain a healthy heart and circulation until we reach the menopause.
Previous illnesses don’t necessarily rule you out of the longevity stakes. Although centenarians and supercentenarians are likely to have an unusually lucky combination of genes, their past medical history is not always pristine.
When researchers looked at the medical histories of 424 centenarians to assess their resistance to 10 major illnesses (including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, thyroid and lung problems) they found that centenarians form three distinct groups:
The Survivors (24% of males, 43% of females) who were diagnosed with one or more of these age-related illness before the age of 80, but kept going.
The Delayers (44% of males, 42% of females) who avoided these illnesses until after they reached the age of 80
The Escapers (33% of males, 15% of females) who reached the age of 100 without developing any of these common age-related illnesses.
According to these researchers, there are multiple routes to achieving exceptional longevity, so, don’t be disheartened if your medical notes are more extensive than you’d like.
Research from the Longevity Project suggests that most of the truisms we’ve come to accept about achieving old age are wrong. And, when they are true, it’s not always for the reasons we expect.
Your personality, career and social life are at least as important to becoming a centenarian as a healthy diet and exercise.
Based on almost a century’s worth of data collected in California since the early 1920s, psychology professors Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin have overturned some commonly held myths about how to live to the age of 100. They suggest:
Carry on working long hours – hard workers tend to live longer, especially if you’re in a challenging or stressful job. All that motivation and concentration seems to keep you alive!
Don’t bother to run or play squash – vigorous exercise may reduce your chance of living a long life. Instead, take part in physical activities that you enjoy such as gardening or walking as these are more beneficial for survival than high-impact exercise.
Be conscientious – not surprisingly, this is the best personality predictor of longevity. People who are dependable rather than happy-go-lucky will tend to live the longest and the professors suggest three good reasons why.
First, most obviously, conscientious people do more to protect their health and don’t indulge in risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking excessively, abusing drugs or driving recklessly.
They are more likely to wear their seatbelts and to follow their doctor’s “orders” when it comes to taking medicines regularly rather than skipping doses, or following the Dash Diet to lower their blood pressure.
The second reason has to do with genetics. Some people are biologically predisposed to be both more conscientious and healthier. This suggest that some genes protect against disease by raising body levels of certain chemicals such as serotonin which is mainly found in the gut and the brain.
Serotonin also affects mood, so those with raised levels may be happier and less impulsive. This neurotransmitter is involved in how much you eat and how well you sleep – all key factors related to long-term health.
The third, and most intriguing, suggestion is that having a conscientious personality leads you into healthier situations and relationships. You create a longevity path through life by having a happier marriage, better friendships and healthier work situations than those you are less conscientious.
So, according to the Longevity Project, your chance of living to a ripe old age is good if you show conscientious patterns of behaviour and:
Don’t panic if this doesn’t sound like you. They also found that people change, and even wild party-goers can become more conscientious given the right motivation – such as waking up on the morning of their sixtieth birthday and realising it’s time to get serious about health.
Other researchers have found that people with a sunny outlook on life – and who have an optimistic view of the ageing process – tend to live an average of seven and a half years longer than those who indulge in negative thoughts.
In fact, smiling through adversity can add more years to your life than not smoking. Optimism appears to have beneficial effects on the immune system. It is also associated with a lower risk of heart attack, stroke and cancer. Somewhat obviously, it also makes you nicer to be around, which can help to improve the quality of your social relationships.
Good nutrition is vital, but, I won’t drone on about the usual healthy eating messages such as cutting back on salt intake and getting your 5-a-day. Instead I’ll focus on the fact that restricting calorie intake is associated with a significantly extended life expectancy and healthy ageing.
Unfortunately, like the inhabitants of Okinawa Island in Japan, you would need to restrict your calorie intake to around two-thirds of your normal daily needs to prolong your life by 20 to 40 years.
The good news is that you can get similar benefits by eating what you like one day and fasting the next. This intermittent fasting appears to produce life-extending effects by improving glucose control, lowering blood pressure and boosting immunity. It has been reported that the physiological benefits of this approach can be seen within as little as two weeks.
Trends such as the 5:2 diet have evolved from this research. As a long-term strategy, intermittent fasting may prolong life and help shield against neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis.
It’s important to remember that dietary restriction does not involve a lack of micronutrients. If you don’t get the nutrition your body needs, all bets are off.
When cutting back on your food intake, always take a good multivitamin and mineral supplement made to a pharmaceutical standard known as GMP.
Of course, everyone’s situation is different, so, make sure that you check with your doctor before making any changes to your diet. This way, they can advise you on how to stay safe.
Although this phrase is overused, scientists writing in the British Medical Journal have identified specific superfoods which, when eaten regularly, are predicted to increase life expectancy by five years for women. To achieve this, you will need to consume the followings:
What’s not to like? Wine – red or white – and dark chocolate have the makings of a longevity diet from Heaven. That said, if you’re watching your weight, a smaller 40g bar of dark chocolate is probably the way to go.
Together, these superfoods have the potential to improve circulation, lower cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure and discourage unwanted clotting enough to reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by a massive 76%.
A U.S. study of 4,676 healthy women also found that those who most closely followed a Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts, olive oil, garlic and moderate amounts of fish had longer protective caps, known as telomeres, on the ends of their chromosomes.
Telomere length is closely associated with longevity and, in this study, women following a Mediterranean-style diet were expected to live, on average, 4.5 years longer than those following a different way of eating. This difference is comparable to the life-expectancy gap between smokers and non-smokers.
Sleep is a time of rejuvenation and regeneration when you secrete growth hormone to replenishes proteins and revitalise your cells.
As with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it’s important not to get too much or too little sleep. You want just the right amount.
Researchers followed 21,000 identical and non-identical twins for over 22 years to see how diet and lifestyle impacted on genetic inheritance and disease. They found a clear association between getting an optimum amount of sleep and longevity. Those twins who habitually slept for between 7 and 8 hours per night lived significantly longer, on average than those who slept for shorter or longer durations.
If you tend to lie in bed in the morning, aim to get up earlier and achieve more during your day. An energising herb, such as Rhodiola, may help. If you have sleep difficulties try relaxation therapies and sleep-inducing supplements such as Valerian.
When researchers from the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center investigated the supplements used by over 77,700 people aged 50 to 76, they were astonished to find that those who took glucosamine at least four days a week, for at least three years, were 18% more likely to survive than non-users. Similar results were found for chondroitin.
They decided to perform a more sensitive analysis, by removing the first two years of follow-up to exclude any participants who were incubating pre-existing diseases.
Rather than diluting the results, the protective effect of glucosamine increased to a 20% reduced risk of death from any cause. This protection remained even after taking other factors such as smoking, weight, age, education, marital status, alcohol intake, physical activity, vegetable intake, cholesterol-lowering medication and HRT into account.
Follow up studies indicated that the anti-inflammatory effect of glucosamine (which reduces joint pain and swelling in arthritis) may also protect against cancer, lung and heart disease.
Magnesium is needed for over 300 body enzymes to work properly. It also plays a key role in nerve conduction, muscle contraction, blood pressure and heartbeat regulation.
Furthermore, a “good” intake of magnesium is associated with a significantly smaller risk of death from any cause – and you don’t need high amounts.
Those living longest obtained around 442mg/day from eating nutrient-dense wholefoods. It is believed to promote longevity through beneficial effects on blood pressure, blood clotting and blood vessel dilation. It also helps by protecting against abnormal heart rhythms and heart failure.
The best advice, of course, is to choose your parents carefully, so you inherit their longevity genes. Both of my great grans and one granny, lived well into their nineties. Even my parents are cruising towards their 80s. I have everything crossed that I might follow suit.
But, given that you have little control over the genes you’ve inherited, the above tips can help you to make the most of what you have.
Nothing can guarantee that you will live to 100, but, healthy living provides plenty of stepping stones to help you on your way.
If you have any niggling or persistent medical concerns, it’s important to get these checked by your doctor. Don’t forget that some conditions, like high blood pressure, don’t cause significant symptoms, so, regular check-ups are a must.
Do you have anyone in your family who lived into his or her 90s or beyond? Can you see yourself becoming a centenarian? Which of the tips in this article are you already taking advantage of? What do you think are the keys to living to 100? Please join the conversation.
Tags Healthy Aging