Longevity – Actions for long life

Judith Davey


Avoidance of Boredom
– Several studies have found a startling connection between chronic boredom and early death…… perhaps a literal demonstration of being “bored to death.” Following up a 25-year study in Britain, it was found that people who had said that they were bored in the original survey were 40% more likely to have died than those who had found their lives interesting. This could be a demonstration of the powerful connection between mind and body and what may happen if you believe that you have an optimistic outlook.

But, on the other hand, living longer of itself could lead to boredom.

Social Contacts – Keeping up our social contacts is very important as we age as it has been found that loneliness can be as much a health threat as smoking. This may be hard as friends and partners die and families become separated. However, there are organisations, including Age Concerns, which are working to reduce loneliness and promote social connectedness among older people.

Fasting – You may have heard of studies showing that dietary restriction, including intermittent fasting, may extend healthy lifespan and delay age-related diseases in species from yeast to mice to monkeys. But drastic changes in diet should not be undertaking without advice from health professionals.

Certainly, intermittent fasting – which does not mean starvation – slows bodily processes, clears the system of toxins and waste products, rests the vital organs and decreases the load on metabolic processes. Alternate-day (500 calories every other day) fasting interventions lasting six to eight weeks in human trials have been associated with lowered cholesterol and triglyceride levels in adults.

However, it is very difficult to study cell biomarkers in humans, especially because most people can’t or won’t participate in long-term intervention studies, especially related to fasting. Compared with most other creatures, humans live for a very long time. This makes it very difficult to run studies that measure the effect of anything on longevity. Scientists would have to wait 90 years to complete a study.

Vegetarianism – Combining data from several studies shows that a diet low in meat can be associated with greater longevity and that the longer a person sticks to a meat-free diet, the greater the benefit. But not all studies agree. Some show very little or even no difference in longevity between meat eaters and non-meat eaters.

There is some evidence that meat-free diets can reduce the risk of developing health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure and even cancer. And vegan diets possibly offer added protection

Finding a link between two things – such as eating meat and an early death – doesn’t necessarily mean one thing caused the other. Vegetarianism and longevity maybe related but a different variable may explain the link. It could be that vegetarians tend to be the “health-conscious” people who exercise more, watch their weight, smoke less and drink less alcohol than their meat-eating counterparts. Overall healthier lifestyle patterns may be the crucial factor.

Taoism – is perhaps the world’s most established philosophy on longevity. Ancient Taoist masters devised techniques to attain immortality. The philosophy is based on achieving harmony with nature and the universe; detachment from ordinary reality; relaxing body and mind to allow vital forces of nature to take over. Thus our own “chi” – vital breath – can be combined with that of the universe. In more practical terms this involves breathing exercises, along with the use of herbs, and there are links with Tai Chi and Kung Fu. This will help the circulation and bodily functions.

While actual length of life relies on factors beyond one’s control, Tao suggests actions aimed at yang sheng, i.e. nurturing of life, allowing your body and mind to function at their best. Moderation is the key, which brings peace of mind and the state of balance – essential to a healthy and long life.

Laughter – is the best medicine, they say and there is some scientific evident behind this. In one study cancer patients were many times more likely to survive if they managed to maintain their sense of humour. Hearty laughter can be a form of physical exercise – “a form of internal jogging”. It exercises the vital organs, clears the respiratory system, decreases arterial stiffness, increase pain tolerance, reduces depression, relaxes the body and reduces stress.

We hear about humour therapy and laughter workshops, combined with exercises, such as yoga. It has long been accepted that low mood and depression can have a negative effect on physical health. How laughter and humour can have a positive effect on longevity is not clear, but they help to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and promote the release of endorphins, that help control pain. And there are physical effects of laughter, including increased breathing, more oxygen use, and higher heart rates.

Other studies have shown reduced risk of death among people with high “humour scores”, especially for women. The gender differences could be due to a slight decline in humour scores as men age. Do women keep their sense of humour longer?

Overall, it is no wonder we feel better with a good laugh.

Sleep – in sleep the body disposes of waste products, generate antibodies and hormones and reduces pressure on the heart. Animals which hibernate live longer than those with a similar genetic make-up. Using up energy reduces the lifespan. But this correlation is not a simple one.

It has been found that mortality is higher among those who sleep very long hours, or very short hours. A large-scale research project found that people sleeping for longer than eight hours a night had a 30% increased risk. People sleeping six or less hours had only a 12% increased risk. What is cause and what effect? The underlying reasons for poor sleep patterns and their possible relation to physiological changes in the body need examination.

People need different amounts of sleep, and this can be influenced by age, lifestyle, diet and environment. So, it may not be sleep which is to blame, but underlying conditions which affect sleep. Professor Horne from the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre: “Sleep is just a litmus paper for physical and mental health.”

Names – A statistical relationship has been reported between names and life expectancy. Research in the UK and USA showed that people whose last names began S to Z died 12 years earlier than the national average. Could they be victims of “alphabet neurosis” caused being at end of every alphabetical line?

Several studies have also reported that people with uncommon first names are perceived to be less intelligent, attractive, and likable than are people with more popular names. This leads to the possibility that social stigmatisation may affect life expectancy. If names are associated with low self-esteem, names may also be associated with conditions that can affect life expectancy.

Another study reported that life expectancy was related to a person’s 3-letter initials. Specifically, people with positive initials (such as ACE or WIN) lived much longer than do people with negative initials (such as PIG or DIE).

Can we believe this? Could it be that any effects of names on longevity are related to ethnic, religious, cultural, and socioeconomic factors that are correlated to name choices?

It is hard to pinpoint actions which definitely prolong life, they include some which are clearly out of “left field” like this last one (1) .


(1) My selection of items for this series of blogs came from a book I picked up at a sale a few years ago – “The Complete Book of Longevity” by Rita Aero. Perigee Publishers, New York, 1980.


About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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