Jim Duffy used to hope he’d die before he got old, but he now thinks living into his Eighties might be all right and has discovered how to do it.
The old Indiana Jones movies with Harrison Ford were pretty epic events in their day. From Raiders of the Lost Ark to The Crystal Skull, these movies provided swashbuckling, testosterone-fuelled adventures that kept us, the audience, glued to the screen. Would Indiana win through against the odds, overcoming the baddies and cheats? The more I think about it, with all the spiders, creepy crawlies and snakes he had to deal with, it was like a precursor for I’m a Celebrity ... get me out of here!
My favourite Indiana Jones movie was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade starring Sir Sean Connery. Long and short, they go after the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ, and if one drinks from it, one has eternal life. And living longer seems to be in vogue not only for Indiana, but for us all. Hence the current fascination with all sorts of potions and exercise routines to keep us fit into our nineties. Who needs the Holy Grail when we have Davina MCall DVDs?
The search for the Holy Grail, which in today’s money, means living a healthy life to the top end of the life expectancy charts cannot be achieved by drinking from an alleged mythical chalice. No, to become the fittest person in the old folks Home, one has to live a life that resembles a Cistercian monk’s. Just how happy the monks are is a matter for interpretation. But, let’s explore this ... for the sake of a longer life.
My own expectation of a long and healthy life was set at 55. Yes, I was pretty happy to be healthy to 55, then head downhill and be dead by 65. Some of you maybe thinking this was a wee bit too pessimistic, especially when the life expectancy for Scotland has males topping out at 71 years of age and in Spain, where I now live, a whopping 81 years.
But, I had reasons for my own personal life expectancy. I was more focussed on how useful me and my body would actually be at 71. I anticipated that my mind would deteriorate, my water works would be dysfunctional and my sex life would be, well, a Mills and Boon book at bedtime with my cocoa. I would dribble when I drank my tea and spill gravy down my front at the Christmas table, while others placed large napkins on my chest and stomach to catch it all.
So, 65 sounded okay and probably a good estimation of my usefulness and mobility. But, and it’s now a big, huge, audacious and positive but, it seems I need to reset my calibrations for old age as I seem to be doing okay – if the latest health news is to be believed.
A recent study in the USA of 100,000 people over a 34-year period has highlighted the brutal truth behind living a long and healthily life. Like I said, it’s a bit monk-like! But, nevertheless it appears that there are five areas of our lives that we can proactively improve to add years to our time on this earth. And not just years of visiting doctors for statins and high-blood pressure pills either. So, I’m now going to provide you with a sort of Holy Grail of longer life. Notebooks out... here it is: eat a healthy diet; get regular exercise; maintain a healthy body weight; don’t smoke; and drink alcohol in moderation.
And there was you thinking it was going to be a ground-breaking, Indiana Jones ‘woohoo journey’ into good times. But alas, there is nothing new here. However, the research showed that people who made a conscious effort to abide by these lifestyle choices, lived longer. Indeed, much longer.
Do those things and compared to people who don’t meet any of those criteria, if you’re a woman in the US, your life expectancy improves from 79 to 93.1 years. If you’re a man, your life expectancy increases from 75.5 to 87.6 years. Yes, women get 14 additional years and men get 12 more years.
So, there is the opportunity to live a longer and more healthy life well into your eighties.
I am smug enough to share with you that I think I’m doing okay with the first four on the list. But, the yummy Monestrall red wine that I now favour is probably setting me back a bit if I’m honest. But this leads to another eye-opener that the research has thrown up. Certainly, if you can live like a monk and adhere to all five long-life determinants, then bully for you.
But, the majority of us may only be able to achieve three out of the five. Researchers found a “dose-response relationship” between each individual healthy lifestyle behaviour and a reduced risk of early death. In non researcher-speak, that means any lifestyle improvements you make will positively impact your life expectancy. Bonus! A bit of good fortune that plays out better than three numbers in the National Lottery.
Making lifestyle choices is hard. It takes determination and discipline, hence my monk analogy. A couple of glasses of red wine is good, when compared to seven pints down the pub on a Friday and Saturday night.
Taking a 30-minute walk each day in the wind and rain isn’t easy and takes motivation. But, the research seems to show that these changes, when all put together, increase the opportunities for a longer, healthier life.
My question to you for today or this weekend: will you give serious thought to adopting at least three out the five healthy lifestyle choices?
If so, I wonder if the 87-year-old you will say – thanks!