Annabel and I both enjoyed Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s recent podcast with Professor Rose Anne Kenny who is, among other roles, Chair of Medical Gerontology at Trinity College Dublin. You can find the podcast on the usual platforms and Dr Chatterjee’s website here. It’s two hours long so might be one to save for a lengthy solo winter walk! Together, they take a deep dive into many of the topics we cover in our book The Age-Well Project, from purpose and laughter to quality sleep and the strength benefits of carrying heavy shopping bags.
The number one action Dr Kenny recommends for longevity, however, is having good quality relationships and friendships throughout our lives. This time of year can be fraught with everything from social overload to isolation, and is often freighted with a sense of loss too. But it can also be a time of great joy and reconnection – I hope those are coming your way through this festive season.
Her two other top recommendations are – of course – to exercise and pay attention to our diet, so I’ve had a look at the latest longevity studies on those topics for you.
Exercise alone isn’t enough
Recently released research from Finland looked at the role movement plays in longevity and found that although exercise helps us lead a long life, it only does so in conjunction with other healthy behaviours. In other words, exercise alone won’t counteract an otherwise unhealthy lifestyle. We tend to have faith in what doctors refer to as ‘compensatory belief’ – the notion that if we do something unhealthy, we can eliminate its adverse effects by doing something healthy, like exercise. But that isn’t the case: we need healthy behaviours to work in synergy to have the best results. Something to remember in this season of excess.
Five a day
A paper published in the journal Nature last month looked at the impact of adherence (or not) to the UK’s Eatwell Guide on longevity. The Eatwell Guide was published in 2016, to encourage us Brits to get our five portions of fruit and veg a day, reduce salt and saturated fat intake and consume more whole grains and pulses. A study published in the BMJ in 2020 found that just 0.1% of the British population actually sticks to these guidelines. A staggeringly low number.
Now, new research has looked at how following the guidelines more closely might impact our longevity. It revealed that changing from an unhealthy diet to one following the Eatwell guide would add over eight years to our life expectancy at the age of 40, and four years at the age of 70. We know it’s not as easy as saying to someone ‘change your diet’ and that many factors are at play here, not least socio-economic ones. But it’s always reassuring to see the clear difference that healthy eating makes to our lifespan. The researchers also found that consuming more whole grains and nuts (plenty of those around at this time of year) and less red meat and sugary drinks had the biggest benefits on life expectancy.
Do share your favourite health-related podcasts in the comments. We’re always looking for recommendations!
LOOKING AHEAD TO A LANDMARK YEAR
2024 marks 10 years of the Age-Well Project! In spring 2014 we planned a low-key blog about research into longevity, how we were putting it into practice in our own lives and the related recipes we were cooking in our kitchens. Little did we realise that it would spawn a wonderful worldwide community of thousands, best-selling books and a decade of ageing well. Thank you for being with us on this journey.
We’re currently pondering how best to celebrate – watch this space!
In the meantime, Annabel’s fabulous new book, Sleepless, is published in January (pre-order it from Waterstones here or bookshop.org here. On the 31st you’re invited to the online launch party. In this free Zoom webinar we’ll explore the way our brains change at night, the therapeutic nature of darkness, how much sleep we do – and don’t – need and the creativity of the night self. We’ll share details of how to book your place on the Zoom call early in the new year.
I’ll be hosting a new Rest Reset event with incredible Yoga Nidra teacher Kanan Thakerar in early March. Taking place on a Saturday afternoon in west London, this is a two-hour workshop focussed on the importance of rest. I’ll talk about the science and how to create habits which allow us to get the rest we need; Kanan will lead a deeply restorative session of Nidra. Join the waiting list here for more info.
AGE-WELL CHRISTMAS RECIPES
As is becoming traditional at this time of year, I’m sharing seasonally-appropriate recipes from the archive. And, of course, so many festive foods support longevity – Brussels sprouts, turkey, nuts, spices and fruits are all packed with age-well nutrients. Let us know which of these recipes you try: