Scientists have found that making behavioural changes now can significantly improve your health in 20 years time.
They reached these conclusions after following thousands of people over a twenty year period to see what impact diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices made.
Gentle and sustained exercise every day is good for your brain and can cut the risk of developing dementia by 40% according to a study that tracked people in a community in Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948.
A 20 year study into female nurses found that those who walked 30 minutes a day scored significantly better on mental-health tests.
However three years down the line the advice for a healthy heart is that it’s not good enough just to exercise – it has to be intense.
Danish researchers recently reported a study of 10,000 adults in the BMJ which showed that a daily power walk or jog could cut the risk of heart disease by 50% whereas a slow amble made no difference.
The fast walking halved the risk of metabolic syndrome – a collection of factors such as a bulging midriff, high blood pressure, and abnormal blood fat levels – and jogging reduced it by 50%.
Generally the more effort you put into your exercise the better. Some experts say two 60-second workouts a week can reduce the risk of heart disease from middle-age onwards. The participants in one study did all-out 6 second sprints 6 times increasing to 10 times.
They lost 1kg without changing their diet or other activities but more importantly their cardiovascular function was improved after just 8 weeks. It suggests that HIT can have a significant impact on obesity and heart disease.
On the other hand yoga is an excellent way of reducing tension, reduces bmi, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Research at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam shows that regular yoga can be as effective as strenuous forms of exercise when it comes to heart health. For patients with existing heart disease taking medication the benefits were even greater.
So if you can’t do high intensity training (HIT)or have a pre-existing heart condition yoga sounds like the ideal solution.
Eating even small amounts of processed meat like bacon, sausages, or salami, can increase your likelihood of dying prematurely by 20% according to research at Harvard based on 100,000 people over 28 years.
Unprocessed red meat also carries a health risk. Daily servings of red meat (85g) over the length of the study brought an 18% increased risk of dying from heart disease, a 10% increased risk of dying from cancer and eating 100g a day increased the risk of diabetes by 19%.
Red meat is considered dangerous because steak often contains high amounts of saturated fat and salami and bacon contain high amounts of salt.
The BHF is reviewing its guidance on fat however and suggests you eat a healthy range of fats including the saturated type you find in lean meat and some dairy; along with fats from nuts, avocados, oily fish and seeds.
Replacing red meat with poultry, fish, vegetables, whole grains and other healthy foods could cut your risk of dying prematurely by 20%.
Eating naturally occurring fats rather than that in biscuits, cakes and snacks is the best advice.
Feeling isolated at work or under threat from colleagues is not just upsetting but is a long-term risk to your health and can more than double the risk of serious illness or early death.
A 20-year study at Tel Aviv university tracked more than 800 white-collar workers. Those who were surrounded by bullies and backstabbers were 2.4 more likely to die during the study.
On the other hand feeling supported and welcomed by co-workers seems to protect your health and well-being. Considering how much time we spend at work it’s important that it is a positive experience and somewhere you can get emotional support if you need it.
But it’s not just at work. Living alone in middle age can double your chances of developing Altzheimer’s especially if you are widowed or divorced according to the findings of a 20-year study of 2,000 people published in 2011.
Some supplements may do more harm than good. German research published in Heart in 2012 found that calcium supplements taken to fend off osteoporosis can double the risk of heart attacks.
Research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that men with prostate cancer who take more than 7 multi-vitamins a week are 30% more likely to get advanced and fatal forms of the disease.
Defenders of supplements argue that people who take them are more likely to be ill in the first place. But if you have a healthy diet and aren’t vegan why would you need to take supplements anyway?
Being conscientious i.e. doing what you say you will do, and paying attention to detail has significant health benefits according to the results of an 80-year study of American children from the age of eight called the Longevity Project.
Conscientious people live significantly longer. Being conscientious means having a prudent nature, being persistent and well-organised, somewhat obsessive and not generally carefree, say the authors of the study..
“Taking life seriously makes people want to live more meaningful, committed lives. They also take fewer risks and look after their well-being everyday; they achieved much for their families and nurtured close relationships. They were persistent and successful and dedicated to things and people other than themselves.”
A quarter of us don’t take all our holidays in the UK (an average of 5 weeks). The US isn’t so generous with paid leave but data from the earlier mentioned Framingham study shows that women who don’t often take holidays are eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack than those who took two holidays a year.
Our bodies fact to our lifestyles and if that involves being stressed it’s not good for us.
Having sex is particularly important for middle-aged men. Those who have intercourse several times a week significantly reduce their risk of suffering a fatal stroke.
The University of Bristol monitored the cardiac health and sexual activity over over 900 men in Wales from a former mining village. The men were aged 45-59 when first studied in the early 1980s.
20% reported having sex once a month or less, 25% had sex twice a week or more often. The rest of the group were somewhere between these two extremes.
The 25% who enjoyed the most sex suffered the fewest fatal strokes according to the report in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Eating & Drinking
Studies in Japan show that stopping eating when you feel 80% full can reduce your calories intake by around 20%. Restricted calorie intake has been linked to longevity.
If you don’t fancy that approach a mediterranean diet helps replacing processed foods with freshly prepared meals rich in olive oil, oily fish and nuts. A low carb diet rich in nuts, grains, oat cereals and barley can reduce the risk of heart disease by 10% over 10 years.
Drinking in moderation can help you long term. A study of almost 2,000 men and women published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research showed that men and women who drink moderately tend to live longer than heavy drinkers or teetotallers.
Experts from the university of Texas found three drinks a day did no harm. Low-level alcohol consumption protects against coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in developed countries. So the experts think the benefits outweigh any risks.
Drinking tea also helps. Four or five cups a day helps to protect your heart. A survey of 13,000 people found that those drinking tea (with or without milk) had a better cardiovascular profile than coffee drinkers or those who drank neither.
Tea has a positive effect on blood pressure and has anti-oxidants that have survival benefits.
Diet Drinks are a definite no-no. Drinking artificially sweetened drinks including water is definitely not good for you. The American College of Cardiology suggest that people drinking two or more of these drinks a day are 30% more likely to have a heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular problem than people who never drink them.
Prime sources: Times Body + Soul June 2012 “How to be healthy in 20 years time”; Times Body & Soul January 2015 “The midlife healthy heart guide: the rules for men and women”; plus various posts from this site.