A long life is an appealing thought. But a long and healthy life? Even more so! Statistics collated by the International Longevity Centre suggest around one-third of babies born in the UK in 2012 are expected to reach 100. Impressive stuff, huh? Well, not quite. According to the results of a recent debate at the International Longevity Centre, just under a third of us will reach the humble age of 65 in good health.
A scary thought. Simply put, while amazing gains have been made in life expectancy, the same cannot be said for long-term health, meaning many of us could be looking forward to illness and disease in later life. But taking action now could save you years of aches and pains later. So we’ve rounded up top tips from our fave WF experts to ensure you have every chance of watching the years roll by healthily.
I like to, move it, move it!
Getting active is vital to enjoying your later years in good health – and the earlier you start the better. ‘Fitness and health is like a bank account. If you start paying into it early enough you can reap the rewards long into old age,’ says personal trainer, running coach and author George Anderson (bygeorgeanderson.com).
Sounds like a plan! ‘Exercise that includes some form of impact – running, lifting weights or even body-weight exercises – can reduce the rate at which minerals are leached out of the bones,’ says George. This is especially important for women because hormone levels change in the menopause and you can become more susceptible to brittle bones and osteoporosis. What better reason to get yourself in that weights room, asap?
Good habits also play a role in exercising for life. ‘Creating an exercise habit in your more youthful years will stand you in good stead later on in life, when it is just a part of what you do,’ says George. ‘I used to train a client called Mavis who was in her eighties, but still trained in the gym five days a week, spent two hours a day on her allotment, played tennis regularly and spent her holidays at an activity centre. She had spent her whole life being active so it was easy for her to carry it on into later life.’
So what’s the best sort of exercise to ensure you’re still sprightly when you do hit the high numbers? ‘If there was one single type of exercise that was proven to increase life span, most people still wouldn’t do it if they didn’t enjoy it,’ says George. ‘Variety is the spice of old life, and getting a regular combo of strength and cardiovascular exercise will pay dividends.’ And make habits you can stick to. So, while mountain climbing and triathlons are great fun now, you may also want to include some less intensive activities, such as walking and leisurely cycling. ‘The humble act of walking is an excellent method of keeping fit into old age,’ says George.
And, in spite of what many people think, it is a great idea to exercise in later life. ‘If exercise has been an important part of your life there is no need to stop when you start getting old,’ George says. ‘Exercise is about enjoying the freedom of your body so keeping fit is not something we should ever consider retiring from. Exercise doesn’t make the body healthy, a lack of it makes the body sick.’
Get your ZZZs
Quality sleep is essential for a healthy life, but thanks to hectic work schedules, family and action-packed social lives, a good night’s rest can fall by the wayside. ‘Lack of sleep can cause anything from headaches, to anxiety, depression and weight gain. Sleep is fundamental to health – without it, it is impossible to reach our full potential,’ says sleep expert Anandi (thesleepguru.co.uk).
So what can you do if you just can’t switch off? ‘Look for the root of your sleep issues rather than looking for a sleeping pill, which will only mask the problem,’ recommends Anandi. ‘I believe that by taking the right holistic steps one can create a healthy sleep regime without the use of sleep aids.’
First up, take a closer look at your daily routine. ‘Creating balance in your day is often something that is forgotten – we just run from the morning until bedtime and often sit in front of our computer for 12 hours a day,’ says Anandi. ‘Try getting outside in the mornings for 20 minutes, it will help regulate the production of melatonin, which is important for sleep. And dim the lights before bedtime, perhaps light a candle in the bedroom before turning the lights out.
Use this as a winding-down tool.’ A cup of chamomile tea and a warm bath before bed can also help. A good giggle can also work wonders. ‘You will feel incredibly peaceful after a good laugh,’ confirms Anandi. ‘Plus it also strengthens the immune system and boosts your energy.’ And since stress can not only be a barrier to sleep, but an underlying cause of many health issues, it’s important to address this, too. ‘Thirty minutes of meditation in the morning will help you reduce stress, find a connection to your inner wisdom and help you sleep better,’ says Anandi.
Diet plays a huge part in your health, so it’s worth giving yours a good going over. ‘Swap processed foods for freshly made meals,’ says nutritional therapist Stephanie Ridley (nourishtoflourish.com). ‘It doesn’t need to take long, be expensive or complicated to make, but homemade meals are more likely to contain more nutrients, which will support overall health for the long term.’ And, as ever, a good helping of fruit and veg will ensure you get the vitamins and minerals you need to see you through every stage of life. ‘At the very least have five handfuls of fruit and veg a day and ideally aim for eight,’ says Stephanie.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a good tipple every now and again, but be careful this doesn’t exceed the daily limit (the NHS recommends no more than two to three units a day for women).
‘There are serious associations with drinking more than the government recommends on a regular basis,’ says Stephanie. ‘It may increase your risk of developing certain cancers; it’s a common cause of liver disease [alcoholic hepatitis]; and can damage the heart, elevate blood pressure and/or cause abnormal heart rhythms.’ Alcohol is also calorie heavy and can contribute to weight gain. ‘Being overweight carries a number of associated health issues, including joint pain and poor heart health,’ says Stephanie.
Sugar is the other nasty to avoid when considering your long-term health. According to Stephanie, the sweet stuff can weaken your immune system, make you put on weight, and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes and mental health issues. That ought to put you off the sweeties for good, right? Sugar also has an inflammatory effect on the body. ‘Inflammation is thought to underlie a number of health issues, such as cancer, heart disease and obesity,’ say Stephanie.