Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer
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Life can often seem like it’s hanging in the balance. Putting the global pandemic to one side, the threat of cancer and other chronic diseases cab loom large in your mind. However, research often strikes a more heartening tone: much can be done to extend your lifespan.
There are many studies that promote this positive message but one of the most notable to come out in recent years was published in the BMJ.
The study found maintaining five healthy habits – eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, not drinking too much alcohol, and not smoking—at middle-age – may increase years lived free of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
The study, led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, was a follow-up and extension of a 2018 study, which found that following these habits increased overall life expectancy.
“Previous studies have found that following a healthy lifestyle improves overall life expectancy and reduces risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, but few studies have looked at the effects of lifestyle factors on life expectancy free from such diseases,” said first author Yanping Li, senior research scientist in the Department of Nutrition.
“This study provides strong evidence that following a healthy lifestyle can substantially extend the years a person lives disease-free.”
The researchers looked at 34 years of data from 73,196 women and 28 years of data from 38,366 men participating in, respectively, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study.
Healthy diet was defined as a high score on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index; regular exercise as at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous activity; healthy weight as a body mass index of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2; and moderate alcohol intake as up to one serving per day for women and up to two for men.
They found that women who practised four or five of the healthy habits at age 50 lived an average of 34.4 more years free of diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer, compared to 23.7 healthy years among women who practised none of these healthy habits.
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Men practising four or five healthy habits at age 50 lived 31.1 years free of chronic disease, compared to 23.5 years among men who practised none.
Men who were current heavy smokers, and men and women with obesity, had the lowest disease-free life expectancy.
“Given the high cost of chronic disease treatment, public policies to promote a healthy lifestyle by improving food and physical environments would help to reduce health care costs and improve quality of life,” said senior author Frank Hu, Fredrick J. Stare Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology and chair, Department of Nutrition.
The findings should surprise few.
Eating well, staying and active and avoiding smoking have been demonstrated to slash the risk of developing chronic disease.
A lesser-known but equally important contributor to longevity is getting enough sleep.
Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, coronary heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy.
It’s now clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.
How much sleep do I need each night?
The NHS explains: “Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less.”
According to the health body, what matters is that you find out how much sleep you need and then try to achieve it.
“As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.”
Tips to get to sleep include:
- Sleep at regular times
- Make sure you wind down
- Make your bedroom sleep-friendly
- Keep a sleep diary.
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