The Myths and Facts Separated

August 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Health

We all know -or think we know – what makes for a long and healthy life but are we right? A new book uses one of the most famous studies in psychology to answer the question of who lives longest — and why. The answers may surprise you, but this study was begun in the early 1920s and our interest in, and knowledge of, health care has also changed radically. The Longevity Project’s authors, Dr Howard Friedman and Dr Leslie Martin are on a search and destroy mission to certainly tackle many of our most deeply held beliefs about longevity.

Myth number one — people do not die from working long hours at a challenging job, many who worked the hardest live the longest. Bizarre as it may seem, hard workers live longer, even those with stressful jobs, because being motivated and engaged keeps you alive.

Myth number two — getting and staying married is not a magic ticket to a long life, especially if you are a woman. In fact those unhappy marriages do often live longer, but those whose marriage ends in divorce actually have shorter life spans.

Myth number three — exercise is not necessarily the key to a longer life. In fact the vigourous exercise can be detrimental, results show that the enjoyable physical activities like gardening or walking are more beneficial than high impact exercise.

Myth number four — it’s not a happy-go-lucky people who survive longest, it is the prudent and consistent who flourish through the years.

Myth number five — if you are concerned that you worry too much, then don’t! Apparently healthy concern for the future makes you more likely to be diligent about your health which means you are likely to live longer.

If you’re not sure just where you fall on the longevity spectrum, then the book contains questionnaires that will help you discover that plus advice on how to stay healthy.

The authors are endorsed by Dr Andrew Weil — one of the most respected nutritional and make a thick doctors in the USA — who even with his enormous range of information and experience says that he learned a lot from this book. Calling it “a compelling and objective assessment of character traits associated with longevity.”

Personally, I found the key personality component self assessment tests absolutely fascinating, and now I am not going to tell you the result! The book is published by Hay House and if you can’t find it in your local bookshop, and you can order it direct from amazon here: The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight Decade Study

Mediterranean magic

It’s not up to date news, just a reminder of something that will substantially improve your health – and is enjoyable as well. I am off on a Mediterranean cruise calling near to Florence in a few weeks, so when a piece of research from that area came in it caught my attention. The British Medical Journal this week published a study from the University of Florence that showed that people who followed an authentic Mediterranean diet lived longer and suffered few serious diseases.

The so-called Mediterranean Diet had great favour a few years ago, but sadly it is no longer followed as strictly or by as many people – even in the Mediterranean itself. So what are the benefits? Well research done on an extremely large scale and across Mediterranean populations and others in the U.S., Northern Europe, and a group of Europeans living in Australia gave impressive results.

Dr Sofi of the University of Florence and colleagues followed the diets of 1,574,299 individuals for intervals of three to 18 years, and showed that those who followed the dietary rules got all this:

** a 9% lower overall death rate

** a 9% lower risk of dying from heart disease

** a 6% lower incidence of contracting, or dying from cancer

** a 13% lower risk of contracting Parkinson’s disease

** a 13% lower risk of contracting Alzheimer’s disease

And what do you have to suffer to achieve these impressive improvements in your health and longevity? The Mediterranean diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals, fish, nuts, olive oil, and a moderate intake of red wine during meals. So that’s no hardship is it? On the downside the diet is also low in red meat, dairy products, and alcohol in large quantities BUT the key word is low. You don’t have to give them up altogether just eat moderately in comparison to the other elements of the diet – we may not have much Mediterranean sunshine at the moment, but we can at least benefit from their dietary habits!

The secrets of longevity – Part 3

July 20, 2008 by  
Filed under Diets, Food & Nutrition, Health, Lifestyle

We have journeyed to the Japanese island of Okinawa and the Sardinian village of Ovodda, but now we are off to what can seem like the natural home of those seeking eternal life – California. Certainly no other nation spends so much time, money and effort in trying to look younger and live longer, but strangely enough their longest lived community subscribes to none of those ideas.

Loma Linda, in California, is a town that is home of a large community of Seventh Day Adventists and they are proving anyone can increase their chances of living a longer, healthier life – and it has nothing to do with your genetic inheritance.

On average, Seventh Day Adventists in the town live between five and 10 years longer than fellow citizens, and it makes them the longest living people in the US.

What is making the difference? For many of those living in Loma Lindo long life is a matter of their faith, and the simple explanation would be that the Church advocates no tobacco or alcohol and promotes a vegetarian diet. All of these are factors that will definitely improve health and prolong life, however,not all members follow this code and even they live significantly longer than average.

Research has previously shown that people that go to church regularly – whatever faith they have – live longer, and that fact has been known for the last 30 years. But why? According to Dr Gary Fraser, who is researching the community, it seems that regular churchgoers have significantly lower levels of stress hormones and so may be better equipped to cope with life’s upsets and challenges.

Dr Kerry Morton, who is involved in a longer-term study on Adventist health, certainly seems to agree. “Religion and connection to something higher than oneself, connection to the sacred,connection to a tight-knit religious community allows you to modulate your reactions and your emotions to believe there is a broader purpose. Therefore your body can stay in balance and not be destroyed by those stressors and traumas over time”.

Well there you have it, the three longest-lived communities in the world, and all with a different answer. Whether it’s faith, food, or family I think it comes down to attitude and how you feel about yourself and your life – whichever route you take make it a positive one.

The secrets of longevity – Part 2

July 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Diets, Food & Nutrition, Health, Lifestyle

If you found last week’s item on the longevity of the Okinawans of Japan, then hopefully this week’s contribution will give you even more ideas on how to prolong your life as healthily and actively as possible. To do that we are heading off to Ovodda in Sardinia. In stark contrast to the Okinawans, the residents of Ovodda don’t count calories and meat is very firmly on the menu, while tofu and soya are not. That may seem like a more typical western diet, but this small town of just over 1,700 residents boasts five centenarians and even more remarkably, as many men live to 100 as women and that certainly bucks the statistical norm. The benefits of a Mediterranean diet are well known, and certainly the consumption of olive oil, more fruit, vegetables and fish is well-accepted as being a health basis for longevity, but this still does not account for the number in Ovodda and other parts of Sardinia. It apparently still applies when residents have actually emigrated between the ages of 20-40 as they still regularly get to be 100 years of age, according to the researchers. Chiefly responsible for this information is Professor Luca Deiana who has tested every single Sardinian centenarian and has come up with a surprising theory about why there are so many.

For hundreds of years families in Ovodda have lived in relative isolation from the rest of the living in the town today are descended from only a few original settlers. “Marriage among relatives is not the rule but there are some cases of this taking place,” says Professor Deiana. “From a genetic point of view, when this happens, there’s a higher probability of having genetic diseases, but also of having positive results like centenarians”. In Ovodda, this interbreeding actually seems to have enabled people to live longer. The limited gene pool has provided a unique opportunity to discover specific genes that are associated with long life. Professor Deiana has detected a number of unusual genetic characteristics that seem to link the centenarians of Ovodda. “One particular gene on the X chromosome seems to be faulty, failing to produce an enzyme known as G6PD. This can often have a negative impact on health, but in Ovodda it may well have had a positive effect. The role G6PD may play in living longer is now being researched further, but the professor is convinced the genetic elixir of life lies with the families of Ovodda. I am not suggesting you start thinking of marrying your cousin, but marrying into the Ovodda gene pool might not be a bad idea.

The secrets of longevity – Part 1

July 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Health, Lifestyle

I imagine that you, like me, want to live as long as possible – but, I want to have a healthy, active life too. How to achieve that has been the subject of much research and debate, and I have found evidence of three different communities who seem to have achieved this. People on the remote Japanese island of Okinawa, in the small Sardinian mountain town of Ovodda and at Loma Linda in the USA live longer in these three places than anywhere else on earth.

At an age when the average Briton is predicted to die (77 years for men and 81 for women) – inhabitants of these three places are looking forward to many more years of good health. Often they’re still working in jobs as demanding as heart surgery.

Their reasons are not all the same, so I thought I would share their secrets with you over the next three weeks.

Let’s start with the Japanese island of Okinawa. With a population of one million, they have 900 centenarians, four times higher than the average in Britain or America. Even more remarkably, the region of Ovodda is the only place in the world where as many men as women live to be 100 years of age, which goes against the global trend of women outliving men.

There is one remarkable scientific fact that sets Okinawans apart from the rest of us, they actually age more slowly than almost anyone else on earth.

“The calendar may say they’re 70 but their body says they’re 50,” says Bradley Willcox, a scientist who is researching the extraordinary phenomenon. “The most impressive part of it is that a good lot of them are healthy until the very end.”

Finding the cause of their exceptional longevity is not simple but the spotlight has fallen on one hormone – DHEA. It’s a precursor of both oestrogen and testosterone and produced in the adrenal glands. While scientists don’t know what it does, they do know that the hormone decreases with age and levels decline at a much slower rate among the Okinawans.

Explanations for this seem most likely to be found in their diet as they not only eat more tofu and soya products than any other population in the world, but have what scientists refer to it as a rainbow diet. That is one that also includes a wide range of different vegetables and fruit, all rich in anti-oxidants.

That sounds familiar enough, but it’s what they don’t eat that may be at the heart of their exceptionally long lives.

The Okinawan’s most significant cultural tradition is known as hara hachi bu, which translated means eat until you’re only 80% full. In a typical day they only consume around 1,200 calories, about 20% less than most people in the UK. The ‘all you can eat’ buffet is not something that would appear in Okinawa, and this voluntary calorie restriction is not fully understood by scientists call it caloric restriction, but they think it works by sending a signal to the body that there is going to be a impending famine, sending it into a more protective, self-preservation mode.

“It’s this ability to trick their bodies into starvation that may be keeping Okinawans physiologically so young. It’s a stark contrast with the cultural habits that drive food consumption in other parts of the world,” says Mr Willcox – and he has studied them long enough, so he should know.

So, if you want to live longer, eat less. Start with smaller portions on a smaller plate, your body will thank you for it. If your family have expectations of an early pay out from your will, then they may of course not be quite so pleased!