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How to add 10 years to your life expectancy in 10 easy steps

As a physician and a futurist I am often asked how to live a long and healthy life.  Here are 10 simple steps, which will help add an extra decade to many people's lives.

1.  Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day

Huge amount of research confirms important of roughage in our diet and that a large range of vitamins and other nutrients are best absorbed in fruit and vegetables rather than as vitamin tablets or dietary supplements of other kinds.  Fresh fruit and veg extends life expectancy because they are packed with antioxidants and combinations of substances that our bodies cannot manufacture.  Fresh fruit and veg also feeds healthy gut bacteria (microbiome) which in turn build all kinds of really useful molecules which we absorb through the gut wall.

2.  Exercise regularly - at least 2 hours a week (brisk walking does count)

Exercise stimulates blood flow to the brain and also your immune system, helps maintain muscle bulk and bone density.  Any amount of exercise is better than none. The range of benefits of exercise is truly astonishing, including improving our mood and sense of well-being, our digestion, our skin tone, liver function - every organ benefits from a good workout, flushing tissues with oxygenated blood.

3.  Don't smoke tobacco / use nicotine products

Stop smoking for an immediate gain in life expectancy - this one really matters.  But there may also be multiple risks linked to vaping:  it is still early days to evaluated longer term impact.  Tobacco really is a massive health issue for just about every long term smoker - not just lung cancer but also chronic obstructive airways disease and a host of other chest conditions, all made worse by smoking.

4.  Keep body weight at healthy level]

Being overweight triggers a vast number of problems of which one of the most serious is diabetes which itself leads to many other risks including heart attach, stroke and blindness.  Obesity places extra load on the heart, and stresses many other organs including the liver, and creates major challenges for our skeleton - with stresses on back, hips, knees and feet.

5.  Limit alcohol to one drink a day (average)

Alcohol-related illnesses are one of the greatest threats to health in many nations.  I think it likely that future generations may regard alcohol as tobacco is regarded today, as a social challenge that deserves much greater taxation and regulation, to make purchase or consumption less easy.  Hundreds of medical conditions are more common in people with large alcohol intake, and that's in addition to all the other social and physical impacts, whether violent behaviour or falling over when drunk, or poor decisions made while under the influence.

6.  Keep a positive outlook on life

People with optimistic, cheerful outlook on life tend to live longer.  We are only beginning to recognise the vast range of linkages between state of mind and how well the cells in our bodies function.  We are talking about more than just responses to stress or anxiety.  Choosing to "look on the bright side" can become a lifetime habit, which helps keep us healthy. It's linked to purpose, meaning and hope. Those on the edge of despair are more likely to become unwell.

7.  Form happy, long term relationships

People who are happily married tend to live longer - especially men - and death of a spouse increases risks of death.  Social contact is important to wellbeing.  This one is linked to positive outlook, above. When we know we are loved, and we have others to love, it helps us to stay healthy.  Pets are part of this picture.

8.  Find work or volunteering that you enjoy and you feel makes a difference

Sudden retirement or redundancy are both major health risks.  Work or volunteering gives us purpose, meaning, routine and keeps us healthy.  And I include unpaid work of all kinds eg parenting and grandparenting.  Knowing that we are able to make a difference to others is absolutely fundamental to fulfilled and long, healthy life.  We are programmed to care, in our genetic code, and when we feel we cannot make any contribution, it is easy to become discouraged or down-hearted.

9.  Move to a nation with excellent free health care

Easy to take for granted, but quality of local health care will affect your life expectancy.  I'm especially aware of the privileges of living in a developed nation with excellent free health care because of the AIDS foundation ACET which my wife and I were involved in starting 30 years ago, with programmes in many of the world's poorest and most marginalised communities.

10.  Seek early advice if you have symptoms which could be serious

Listen to your body. If you get new symptoms, check them out, seek help.  It could save you from early death.  In many cultures, men are often slower than women to seek help, which can contribute to part of the differences in gender-related health statistics.  Our bodies send us many signals, which are often subtle, including tiredness, weakness, pain and so on, which we really need to take seriously.


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