There is nothing more cheery for a doctor in Scotland to see a recurring headline that reads “Life expectancy rise in Scotland grinding to a halt”, writes Dr Punam Krishan.
As I look at my ageing parents at one end of the spectrum and my five-year-old at the other, it’s hard not to take such data personally.
As I gaze across the horizon to the “blue zones” of the world – the places where people are commonly enjoying healthy, happy and fulfilling long lives, I wonder what their secret is?
Out of all the countries across the UK, Scotland has the worst life expectancy – pretty dismal. Whilst genetics somewhat play a part in determining life expectancy and susceptibility to developing chronic diseases, there are other factors which have a greater impact such as health inequalities, austerity and cuts to public services which limit access to better life outcomes. There is also a raft of evidence which links environmental influences, including diet and lifestyle, to lifespan and by this I mean living a long life in wellness and not in illness.
In those blue zones of the world such as Okinawa, Sardinia and Greece, we know that people are living exceptionally long lives.
It has been found that people living in these zones consume a 95 per cent plant-based diet which is rich in legumes, vegetables, whole-grains and nuts. We need to be following this trend. They also exercise calorie restriction and periodic fasting which, with the diet, reduces risk factors for many chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity and cancers. Another secret to living a healthy long life is that people in blue zones don’t drink alcohol like it’s water. Moderation is key but in contrast, we have the highest rates of harmful drinking in our society.
As a collective in Scotland, we could be doing with more physical activity in our daily lives.
When we are blessed with some of the most gorgeous landscapes, there really is no excuse for limited outdoor walking. It’s free and will go a long way to make you live a longer life.
An epidemic of technology addiction is sweeping across the globe and we are allowing it to take over our entire being.
The result is we are switched on all day and often all night. Chronic sleep deprivation is the root cause of many diseases including poor mental health. Ensuring that we are prioritising a minimum of six hours of sleep daily is not too much to ask, or is it?
Last week I walked past a three-storey house with lovely big windows, giving a glimpse of a common scenario today – three members of the household watching the same TV programme on their own.
People in blue zones do things together, as families, as a community. We are increasingly losing touch with this. Just some food for thought. What change can you make to your lifestyle today?
Punam Krishan is a GP and is on Twitter @drpunamkrishan