Yes, we’re all going to get old – but what if we could live a longer, happier and healthier life?
This is where science can help, from informing what we should be eating to how we move and even reinforcing the importance of spending time with our friends.
Here are the three areas you can really make a difference…
Having friends can be just as important to living longer as giving up smoking, according to psychologist Julianne Holt-Lundstad, who is a huge champion of the positive impact socialising can have on our well-being. She recommends two different approaches to this…
“Keep in mind best friends don’t occur overnight and that relationships take time to develop.Julianne Holt-Lundstad
1. Strengthen your existing relationships with family, friends and neighbours
“Relationships take time and effort to both develop and maintain, so devoting time to existing relationships is important. Just as we need to be physically active we need to be socially active,” says Julianne.
2. If you don’t have existing relationships, develop new ones
“Added effort is needed to create new relationships if you find your social circle dwindling,” says Julianne, whether it’s because of family moving away or simply people dying around us as we get older. Although she acknowledges it can be hard work.
“You really need to put one-self out there, finding others with similar interests. Not all groups are going to jive with you… finding your own tribe may take a little trial and error, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t instantly find a best friend. Keep in mind best friends don’t occur overnight and that relationships take time to develop. Being patient and not expecting too much too soon can be helpful.”
What we eat
When it comes to what to eat to stay healthy, there’s a lot of advice out there. Here’s a simple guide from Professor Linda Partridge, a geneticist from University College London who is an expert in ageing and how it affects the body, and Professor Kay-Tee Khaw from Cambridge University, who ran a huge study into the impact of diet on the lives of older people in Europe…
3. Portion control
“Don’t eat too much, so you maintain a reasonable weight,” says Linda Partridge, “and combine it with exercise to keep an equilibrium.”
4. Watch your protein
“Don’t eat too much protein in your diet,” advises Linda, “but you should eat more if you’re older to avoid frailty and muscle weakness.”
5. Minimise salt and sugars
“[These] are mostly found in processed foods so avoid ultra-processed foods,” advises Kay-Tee, while Linda adds that diets high in sugars can “hugely increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease.”
6. Up the plant food
“Five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, if possible,” says Kay-Tee, who adds that the ideal diet should also be “high in lentils and nuts.”
Move your body
Professor Janet Lord is the director of the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing at the University of Birmingham. Here are the top three things she says will help you to stay physically healthy (and the last one might surprise you)…
“If you sit for one or two hours, you’ll undo all the good work your exercising has done. Sitting is the new smoking. Professor Janet Lord.
7. Regular aerobic exercise is good
Basically anything that increases your heart rate and gets your lungs going. “You know you’ve been doing aerobic exercise,” says Janet, “if you’re a little bit sweaty and your heart’s beating a little bit faster.” And how much? “You want to do about 150 minutes a week in 10 minute bursts. So it might be when you’re going for a newspaper in the morning or you’re walking the dog. Don’t dawdle, go at a good pace, that’s number one. That’s looking after your heart and also your brain.”
8. Muscle strength matters
“You need to keep your muscle strength,” says Janet. “This means that you can get out of a chair easily, and that in turn means you can get off the toilet and with that you can keep your independence – it’s as simple as that. Cross your arms and see how many times you can get out of your chair in 30 seconds. If you can only do it two or three times, do it every day and see if you can build your muscles up. Other simple things could be having a carrier bag with potatoes either side and gently lifting them up and down to build your strength.”
9. Don’t sit still for too long
It’s important to watch how much time you’re sedentary, which is bad news for office workers. “If you sit for one or two hours,” says Janet, “you’ll undo all the good work your exercising has done. Sitting is the new smoking.”