London - We want to live long and healthy lives - and we seem to be getting better at it.
Since 1960, the average lifespan - in the UK anyway _ has increased by about ten years for a man and eight years for a woman, and it’s predicted that today’s generation of schoolchildren could well live to 120.
But what can we do to ensure we live as long and healthily as we can? We asked leading experts in the field of ageing and longevity research what actually works - and what they do themselves - to stave off the effects of advancing years...
CHANGE YOUR MEALTIMES AND DON'T WEAR A WATCH
Dr Marios Kyriazis, 60, is a medical adviser to the British Longevity Society and the author of books including Stay Young Longer - Naturally.
The key to a longer, healthier life is constant change and avoiding routine. The human brain is made to thrive on uncertainty - if it knows exactly what’s coming next, it does not thrive.
The body, too, needs stress or stimulation to keep it healthy for longer. This brings about hormesis, which is when, after mild stimulation such as intense exercise or a period without food, various biochemical processes are activated that try to repair the mild damage that happens to the body. In doing so they also repair any age-related damage, too.
So I eat irregularly - constantly changing what I eat, how much and when I eat it.
For example, I might have a breakfast of a piece of bread and cheese at 6am one day, a full English at 10am the next, fruit salad at 8am the day after, and skip breakfast entirely the day after that.
I do the same with exercise. On one day, I’ll do 30 minutes of tai chi in the morning and 20 minutes of ballroom dancing in the evening; the next day a 20-minute walk and then 15 minutes of yoga; the next day a bit of football; the day after that no specific exercise at all and the following day I may try something new, such as horse riding, or lifting logs.
I challenge myself in other ways, too - painting, listening to foreign language radio stations. I also have days where I don’t use clocks or watches and just rely on my body, or days where I don’t use any technology. All this disruption stimulates body and mind, and may help to ward off ageing and disability.
And research shows that when brain cells are stimulated, they function better and last longer, and also stimulate the rest of the body to function better.
DON'T WEAR 'OLD LADY' CLOTHES OR SHOES
GILLIAN Haber, 58, is a retired old age psychiatrist.
A lot of ageing is genetic and there is nothing you can do to stave off the ageing process. However, what you can do to help is not smoke, take lots of exercise, read lots of books to keep your mind active - and avoid wearing old lady clothes.
Obviously you may want to avoid looking like mutton dressed as lamb, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear age-appropriate clothes that makes you look older.
A few years ago I went to M&S to buy some trousers for my mother, who was 85. The lady showed me a pair - they were sort of slacks, made from a stretchy material - and said: “These are the type of trousers the very elderly wear”.
I did actually buy them for her and she was pleased with them, but I can’t imagine ever wearing such a thing no matter how old I am! The same goes for shoes. You might not be able to wear high heels but you can still wear shoes that are attractive and fashionable.
If you resist the temptation to behave in a certain way and refuse to assume certain stereotypes merely because you are old, it can improve your quality of life, which makes you happier generally. And if you are happier generally you are probably healthier.
DO PRESS-UPS, ESPECIALLY IF YOU'RE A WOMAN
Carol Jagger, 64, is a professor of epidemiology of ageing at Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society.
As you age most people will know it’s important to keep your weight off and stay active - but you also need to maintain your upper body strength.
When upper body strength decreases to a certain point you stop being able to dress yourself, shop on your own, get in and out of bed, so you feel the physical affects of ageing and become dependent. And because women generally tend to be weaker than men, they get to that point quicker.
I can’t necessarily halt the decline, but I can ensure I start from a higher point.
So, three times a week, I do a ten-minute upper body workout DVD in my lounge - a minute for each exercise, such as press-ups and bicep curls.
EAT BERRIES OFTEN AND ONLY SIT IN THE SHADE
Mark Birch-Machin, 54, Professor in molecular dermatology at Newcastle University.
Anti-ageing really is about your lifestyle rather than a single factor. It’s about what you eat for breakfast as well as keeping fit and staying out of the sun.
We’ve just completed research using a new blood test that measures levels of free radicals in the blood - these are the damaging molecules linked to disease and ageing - and we found that eating antioxidant-rich food such as blueberries and tomatoes every day reduced the damage caused by the molecules.
I practise what I preach - a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.
Also when outdoors, if possible, I’ll sit in the shade, or position myself with my back to the sun. And when I’m watching rugby at Twickenham, I work out which end will get the sun and book at the other end. It’s anti-ageing and you get a better view.
WORK STANDING UP - THEN GET ON YOUR BIKE
Professor Diana Kuh, 63, is the director of the Medical Research Council Unit for Lifelong Health and Ageing at University College London. She also runs the National Survey of Health and Development, which has tracked more than 5,000 people born in England, Scotland or Wales for 70 years since 1946.
There is no silver bullet - but our research shows is that many of us live very sedentary lifestyles.
And being able to move around isn’t just good from a physical perspective, it’s also good for your emotional wellbeing, which has a key role to play in healthy ageing.
I recently discovered that when I’m working, in terms of activity, it’s equivalent to a day in bed - so 18 months ago I bought my first standing desk and I now try to remain healthy by cycling everywhere.
I’m also attempting to improve my work-life balance and have just taken up singing!
STARVE YOURSELF A FEW TIMES A MONTH
Michael West, 63, is head of BioTime, a California-based company specialising in regenerative medicine.
There’s a lot of talk about ageing and the role of telomeres, which are essentially the ticking clocks inside each cell which control their ageing, and make them mortal.
We know that the older you are, the shorter the telomeres. There’s also talk about reversing ageing in eyes, for instance, with stem cells. But realistically these are at least three to ten years in the future.
For now there is a consensus building that there is something you can do that could add, say ten years of healthy lifespan: periodically fasting - even just for one day every couple of weeks or once a month can have the same positive effect on the body as keeping your weight way down.
So going without food for a day is something that I try to do (though don’t always succeed) regularly.
CONSIDER TAKING A DIABETES DRUG
Nick Lowe, 71, is a consultant dermatologist at the Cranley Clinic, London and a clinical professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine.
For the last five years I’ve taken 500mg a day of metformin, a drug used to help control blood sugar levels in diabetes patients.
I don’t have diabetes, but there’s good evidence it helps prevent the damage sugar can do to cells, which can contribute to ageing.
Studies have shown metformin can extend the lifespan of mice by almost 40 percent, and US researchers are going to test it on humans, too. Rather than wait 20 years for the full results, I take it now (prescribed by my US doctor) because we know it’s a safe drug.
Every morning, I use a broad spectrum sun screen with UVA and UVB protection - SPF 15 or 20 in winter and 30 in summer. As a dermatologist, I want my skin to look as youthful as possible.
I’ve done a lot of research on sun protection and some years ago, we showed that even sitting in a car for 30 minutes a day will expose you to enough UVA through the windows to age the skin.
I also take vitamin D every morning as it’s important for general health but its production is blocked by sunscreen.
I’ve been on statins for 25 years, because there’s good evidence they reduce the risk of disease. I also take fish oils for heart, brain and skin health, and a baby aspirin (a lower dose than standard aspirin) because it’s been shown to lower the risks of heart attacks and other conditions.Does it all help? I’m nearly 72 and still working hard, five days a week.
EAT PURPLE OR RED BERRIES EVERY DAY
Chris Griffiths, 61, is a professor of dermatology at the University of Manchester and a consultant dermatologist at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust.
As well as protecting myself against the sun, in recent years I have eaten a daily portion of red or purple berries because they contain a lot of antioxidants which may prevent some age-related damage. Reducing sugar intake can prevent signs of ageing and may prolong life - sugar can detrimentally affect the collagen tissue, a structural protein in skin.
I’m not obsessional about it but I try to avoid having a bread roll or dessert with dinner, don’t add sugar to things, and don’t have big portions. The key is not just for a longer life, but for a healthier life.
WHAT ABOUT RESVERATROL?
David Sinclair, 46, is a professor in the department of genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-founder and co-chief editor of the journal Aging.
Research suggests that calorie restriction - that is, living on severely reduced diets of just 600-700 calories a day - could improve our life spans, possibly because it activates genes called sirtuins which are thought to stop cells getting old.
In 2003, I did some experiments on yeast to see if there were any compounds that would mimic the effects of calorie restriction.
We discovered that resveratrol, an antioxidant found in the stalks and skin of red grapes and in a plant called Japanese knotweed, appeared to boost the lifespan of yeast by up to 70 percent, using a similar mechanism.
We repeated the experiments, feeding resveratrol to flies, worms and mice. In every case, it extended the life span.
But for a human to get these sort of benefits, you’d need to drink about 100 glasses of red wine a day. I drink red wine anyway because I enjoy it, but for the purposes of resveratrol I’ve been taking it in supplement form since 2005.
My wife and my parents are trying it, too. I feel fine and people tell me I look okay, but the proof will come later.
It’s not a magic bullet. In our research, the mice that live longer seem to die from the same causes, just later than we might expect.
So we’re not stopping heart disease, Alzheimer’s or cancers, we’re just delaying them.
Ultimately I don’t know for sure what taking it will do, but I do know what will happen if I don’t.
PS BUT DON'T MAKE YOURSELF MISERABLE
Joao Pedro Magalhaes is a senior lecturer in the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease at the University of Liverpool.
Each of us must find his or her balance between a healthy lifestyle and the pleasures derived from some unhealthy habits. I care for my health but I don’t overdo it - we can try to mitigate some effects of ageing and have a healthy lifestyle to try to live longer, but I don’t think there’s anything we can do to avoid it.
It’s finding the right balance. Calorie restriction is arguably the only intervention known to slow ageing. However a number of people who’ve attempted it have told me how difficult it is. So I see little point in being miserable to live, at most, slightly longer.
To quote Woody Allen: “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”
Additional reporting: DIANA PILKINGTON and JANE FEINMANN