The life expectancy of people in the Western world is continuing to rise as developments are made in medicine and our own understanding of a healthy lifestyle improves.
And the Irish are at the forefront of this trend. Provided they take good care of themselves, women in Ireland can now hope to reach their 83rd birthday, and men their 78th. Both those expectancies are higher than the EU average.
There were 389 people aged 100 and over living in Ireland in 2011. That is a whopping thirteen times more than the 30 Irish centurions of 1951. In a little over half a century, the Irish life expectancy has increased by an estimated 20 years.
Most members of the public know that a balanced diet and regular exercise are good ways to maintain your health and increase your chances of living longer, and of course it is advisable for everyone to try and live their lives in this way.
But are there any other tips for living a long and healthy life that we don’t already know?
Professor Donal O’Shea, of St Columcille’s Hospital in Loughlinstown, spoke to the Irish Independent earlier this year, about some of the best lifestyle choices you can make to help you live a long and happy life, some of which you may not have already been aware of.
Have a purpose in life
Living and working towards an achievable goal will improve your overall mental and physical health, and improve your chances of a long life. Psychological Science carried out a 14-year study on people aged between 20 and 75. They found that those who lived with a purpose and a goal were more likely to live longer.
Whatever the purpose is, it should be challenging but achievable. There is no purpose in getting up to working a dead-end job and vegging out in front of the television day after day. Those with plans and ambitions to achieve something are more focused and ultimately healthier. It doesn’t mean that if you don’t turn into Mark Zuckerberg overnight then you’re doomed. Working towards a new promotion, or saving for a bigger house, or taking your grandchildren to the cinema every Tuesday evening are all good reasons to stay alive.
Make friends – good ones, and lots of them
The explosion of social media into our lives over the past decade has left many with hundreds, or even thousands, of ‘friends’. That is fine, but make sure you also have a strong network of people that you actually see and meet on a regular basis.
A strong group of friends can be beneficial to your health for a number of reasons. Emotional support during troubles, and laughter and love are key requirements for a healthy state of mind. Going out socially also adds welcome variety to our lives, and gives the chance to break away from the boring day-to-day routine.
People who don’t regularly socialise are more likely to feel isolated and suffer confidence issues, which can lead to depression.
To back it up with facts, Utah’s Brigham University did a study on the importance of strong social circles, and found that people who regularly see their friends are 50% more likely to live a long life than those who don’t.
Do exercise, but not so much that your body is physically aching. A common mistake made by people trying to lose weight is to run their bodies into the ground with over-the-top fitness schedules. This can actually do more harm than good, with injuries, weakened immune systems, and even heart problems possible side-effects of extreme exercise. Of course running an Iron Man competition is OK if you have prepared for it correctly and are physically ready. But it is not the best way to start your new fitness regime. Generally, if it feels like punishment, then it’s too much.
Professor O’Shea said: “You need to get an hour of moderate to vigorous exercise a day, 365 days of the year. Occasional extreme activity, such as a cycling race is fine, but if it’s done every day it’s not.”
Have a glass of red wine
It is widely thought that a small glass of red wine with your evening meal is beneficial to your health. The antioxidants in red wine are believed to help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart, which reduced the chances of heart disease.
Drinking a glass of wine with your dinner also helps you to relax, and puts you in a good mood.
Moderation is the key. One small glass for women, and two for a man are the recommended daily intake of wine. Any more than that, and the damaging effects of the alcohol will begin to outweigh the benefits.
Take your time when eating and stop at 80% full
Instead of wolfing down your dinner in a matter of minutes, it is far more beneficial to take your time and eat at a more leisurely pace. This means your body can start digesting smaller amounts of food straight away, rather than having a large amount of substance to get to work on all in one go. This speeds up your metabolism and means less fat is stored in the body, as it is all being digested and used immediately.
It is also advisable to stop eating before you feel full. Feeling full means your stomach is loaded with all the food it wants to take – more than your body actually needs. Dan Buettner, American writer and explorer, found that the elders in Japan – a country with one of the highest life expectancies in the world – will stop eating when they feel about 80% full rather than eat til they have finished all the food they have in front of them.
Obviously, foods for you to try and work into your weekly diet should be fresh fruit and vegetables and low-fat meats and fish.