We all know people are living longer on average, but according to the most recent Government research, from the Department for Work and Pensions, one in six of us in the UK will live to be 100. Of all the ways to live longer, we really have better medicine to thank for this – life expectancy at the end of the 19th century was a mere 47. But studies also suggest that the everyday choices you make, from what you have for lunch to how often you see your friends, could play a role too. In fact, Cancer Research UK estimates that half the 285,000 cancer diagnoses made each year could be prevented by lifestyle changes.
While we all know that smoking is bad and exercise is good, there are plenty of other little changes that could make a big difference to both the length and quality of your life – some of which you may find surprising! Below are seven simple ways to live longer by making micro changes to your daily routine.
Simple ways to live longer
1 Keep your teeth clean
You’ll slash your risk of heart disease and stroke
Studies have increasingly shown a connection between gum disease and heart attacks and strokes. Research from the Department of Oral Microbiology at Bristol University and the Royal College of Surgeons discovered the reason why. Poor dental hygiene can lead to gum disease, and this is how the bacteria that feed off plaque and food in the mouth get into the bloodstream. Once there, the bacteria use a protein to encourage blood clotting, which not only protects them from attack by the immune system and antibiotics, it also raises your heart attack and stroke risk. It’s largely preventable by good cleaning, so floss gently every day – brushing only covers 60 per cent of the surface area of teeth.
2 Eat 10 portions of fruit and veg a day – not five
You’ll help your heart
Government health guidelines say we should eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but a major study from Imperial College London, which analysed data from 95 studies concerning fruit and vegetable, suggests there may actually be greater benefits from eating 10. Researchers found that eating 800g of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce a person’s chance of having a stroke by a third, while the risk of heart disease can drop by around 24 per cent. Only a quarter of us eat our five-a-day according to the annual NHS review of obesity and eating habits in England, so 10 may seem like a daunting target. But even adding just one extra portion will lower your risk of heart disease.
3 Stop yo-yo dieting
You’ll be healthier, happier and slimmer
Going on a strict diet, losing weight, then piling it back on when you resume your previous eating habits is not only demoralising, it is detrimental to your health. Yo-yo dieting has a harmful effect on blood fats, increasing your risk of heart disease. Dieting excessively may also mean missing nutrients too, putting you at risk of problems like osteoporosis. Instead, make a permanent change to your eating habits to include a wide range of fresh foods, avoiding processed meals and sugary snacks, keep active and don’t obsess about your weight.
4 Look on the bright side
You’ll lower your risk of heart and kidney failure
A 2008 review of 70 studies by the Mayo Clinic, in the US, found that having a positive outlook increased life expectancy both for people in good health as well as those with chronic illnesses. Positive wellbeing increases life expectancy by several years and provides a ‘buffer’ against illness, reducing your chances of death by heart disease by 29 per cent and kidney failure by 23 per cent. Researches don’t know why exactly, but studies show that happier people tend to have stronger immunity, plus they cope better with stress and may have lower blood pressure. Fortunately, making the best of things and having a positive outlook is something you can learn if it doesn’t come naturally to you!
5 Stand up every half hour
You’ll reduce your weight and risk of diabetes
Increasingly, research shows that people who spend long hours sitting are at greater risk of death from serious illnesses, even if they eat healthily or work out. A study from Queensland University found that the top 25 per cent of people who got up from their chairs the most had waists on average 4.1cm smaller than the 25 per cent who took the fewest breaks. A large waist is a significant risk factor for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Also, those who spent the longest time sitting had lower levels of HDL cholesterol – the ‘good’ type – and higher levels of harmful blood fats. So if you’re desk-bound, make sure you get up every 30 minutes to an hour, even if it’s just while you talk on the phone.
6 Foster good friendships
You’ll add years to your life
An analysis of 148 studies in the US found that people with a good support network of close friends lived 50 per cent longer than those without – the same benefit as ditching a 15-a-day cigarette habit. It’s thought this is because these people tend to have lower blood pressure and stress levels, and higher immunity. Other research shows that the quality of the relationships is also important, as the benefits come from face-to-face interaction – Facebook pals don’t count. And surround yourself only with friends who leave you feeling uplifted, not emotionally drained!
7 Take a vitamin D test
You’ll protect your bones and lower your risk of breast cancer and diabetes
Low levels of vitamin D are now common in the UK – our diets aren’t high enough in vitamin-rich foods, like oily fish. And because we spend a lot of time indoors, our skin doesn’t get much sun exposure, when it’s the action of sunlight on skin that used to be our main source of vitamin D. We’ve always known it’s vital for strong bones, but increasingly studies are suggesting a connection between low levels of vitamin D and illnesses including heart disease, breast cancer and diabetes. In studies, vitamin D has been shown to promote apoptosis – the death of potentially cancerous cells, while the American Journal of Cardiology reported a link between a deficiency and heart disease and diabetes. However, more research is needed in these areas.
Your GP can do a pin-prick test to see if you’re vitamin D-deficient. The Government recommends people in the UK consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement between October and the end of March, while Cancer Research UK advises that most people only need a little time in the UK summer sun each day to make enough vitamin D – you don’t need to sunbathe.