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Add 15 years to your life

11 August 2011

“Live fast, die young, and have a good looking corpse” goes the old motto for those advocating the high life. It would seem though that this is an “old” view reflecting a view of life as an “either/or” situation: either you had fun and died early or you lived conservatively and lived longer. That would not seem to the be the modern, or even post-modern, attitude.

Today the attitude to living as evinced in the multitude of anti-ageing seminars and products around the place is “live well, die old, and let your corpse worry about itself”. There is a belief now that you can enjoy life and still live a long time. Apparently you can purchase creams over the internet that will add a good three decades to your life. If you are of the sceptical mindset that doubts such internet claims, even if they are made by a Dr Lifenlengthen, then a new study that shows how to add between eight and fifteen years to your life may be more to your liking.

This study was conducted by a professor of epidemiology at Maastricht University and involved more than 120 000 men and women aged between 55 and 69. The study involved assessing each individual against four lifestyle factors: physical activity, smoking, eating pattern, and body weight. They then also assessed their risk of premature death at any given time.

The researchers found four lifestyle choices that significantly influenced lifespan. Those factors were: • Not smoking • Exercising for 30 minutes daily • Having a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25 • Eating a Mediterranean style diet (lots of fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, monounsaturated fat and low intakes of red meat and keeping alcohol to 0.5 to two glasses per day)

People who did none of these things scored “zero” and someone who did them all scored “four”. Among women, someone who scored zero had the same risk of death as someone fifteen years older who scored four. So doing all of these things effectively adds fifteen years to a woman’s life. For men the increase was less, being only eight years. For some reason, as yet unexplained, the effects of the Mediterranean diet were more pronounced in women than in men.

Over the course of the ten years of the study, a woman who scored zero was four times more likely to die than a woman who scored four. A man who scored zero was 2.5 times more likely to die than a man who scored four.

Despite the gender differences, it seems fairly clear that not smoking, exercising daily, keeping your weight down, and eating a Mediterranean style diet can give you an extra decade or so in which you can follow your passions or simply annoy a few people, depending on your preference. Either way, it’s a decade that is yours to have or to have not.