For centuries, scientists, philosophers and, erm – all sorts of gurus – have pondered the secret to a long, healthy life.
Well one lady in Aberdeen may have the answer: staying away from men!
“They’re just more trouble than they’re worth,” says 109-year-old Jessie Gallan, one of the oldest of Britain’s growing band of centenarians.
She’s probably got a very good point. However, some of her other, perhaps more easily achievable, tips include enjoying a daily bowl of porridge, and getting lots of exercise.
Gallan has a lot of company in Britain’s 100 Club – the number of centenarians in the UK has more than quadrupled in the past 30 years, and a record 13,780 people aged at least 100 were alive in 2013.
So, apart from avoiding blokes, what other life-lengthening tips might they give us?
EAT MORE OATS
Gallan’s porridge tip is indeed a good one – a study by Harvard University found a small daily bowl of porridge is linked to a long and healthy life. The study, which followed more than 100,000 people for 14 years, found those who ate the most wholegrains, such as porridge (or brown rice, corn and quinoa) seemed protected from many illnesses, particularly heart disease.
GO EASY ON THE SUGAR
New research published this month suggests the majority of the British public are unaware of the serious health implications of a poor diet – including excess salt and sugar – combined with a lack of exercise.
A study of more than 2000 people by Nuffield Health found a third didn’t worry about the amount of salt or sugar they ate, even though excess sugar is linked to changes in metabolism, increased blood pressure and liver damage.
To combat this, they suggest swapping a daily fizzy drink for water, which will cut seven teaspoons of sugar from your diet, saving 10kg of the white stuff a year. The resulting weight loss could then lengthen your life: an overweight female could add six years to her lifespan just by losing 5kg.
SENSIBLE WITH SALT
Too much salt is connected to increased blood pressure, a major risk factor in strokes, heart disease and heart attacks - the leading cause of death in the UK. For those in the Nuffield survey who seem unaware of this, please heed this advice: don’t exceed 6g of salt per day.
And beware that, often, most of the salt we consume is ‘hidden’, in processed foods and things like cereal, bread and jarred sauces, so it helps to get into the habit of reading food labels.
Even swapping your daily shop-bought soup or sandwich for a home-made one can significantly reduce the risk the amount of salt you’re consuming.
The Nuffield figures show that 18 per cent of Brits never do any exercise, and 40 per cent exercise less than once a month. Nuffield says adding 30 minutes of walking into your daily routine, five days a week, can add three-and-a-half years to your lifespan.
Three quarters of people get seven hours or less sleep a night, while one in ten get less than five, says Nuffield. Yet past studies have shown that sleeping less than six hours a night makes you 12 per cent more likely to die prematurely than someone who sleeps up to eight hours.
American researchers Dr Howard Friedman and Dr Leslie Martin found in a 2011 study that prudence and persistence are key traits for a long life. Why? Because conscientious people are thought to be more likely to live healthy lifestyles, not smoke or drink to excess, and take medication as prescribed. They also tend to find themselves in healthier relationships. It’s also thought that they’re biologically predisposed to be healthier, and less prone to many diseases, possibly because of levels of chemicals such as serotonin in the brain.
An Australian study of centenarians found that friends provide emotional support, which helps people deal with stress, and also boosts production of the feel-good chemicals dopamine and oxytocin, which promote brain growth and combat ageing.
The calming effect of owning an animal can both reduce blood pressure and the risk of a heart attack, University of Minnesota researchers found.
And if the pet’s a dog, so much the better, as another study found that owners who walk their dogs every day live an average of seven years longer than non-dog owners.
SWITCH OFF THE TV
After the age of 25, every hour of TV you watch could knock around 20 minutes off your lifespan, say scientists at the US National Cancer Institute – because the more TV you watch, the longer you’re sitting down and not exercising, raising your risk of illness and early death.