When a person reaches a certain age, it’s understandable to assume our health is going in one direction – and it’s almost certainly not a positive one. The route to old age seems carpeted with misery and indignity: heart disease, joint issues, cognitive problems. We go into “decline”.
But a growing body of research is cheerfully proving this doesn’t have to be the case. A major study suggests that switching to a healthier diet even in your sunset years can add a decade to your life. In 2021, a study from Johns Hopkins University in the US tracked more than 6,000 people, aged between 44 and 84, for more than seven years: those who made good-for-you changes such as quitting smoking, following a Mediterranean-style diet , getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight decreased their risk of death in the time period by 80 per cent.
According to the landmark study published in February 2022, scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway have shown that by ditching an “average” British diet – one that is high in processed foods, particularly red and processed meats – to an “optimal” diet high in grains, legumes and nuts, at the age of 60, can add almost 10 years to your life. Even making the switch at the age of 80 can add an extra three years to life expectancy, the researchers found.
So even if you’ve been living a highly processed life with very few greens, it might not be too late to make a change. “The Bergen research is absolutely sound data from a large study,” says Rose Ann Kenny, professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College, Dublin, and author of Age Proof: The New Science of Living a Longer and Healthier Life.
“It’s tricky to advise people exactly what to do during which decade [of life], as we vary so much in our backgrounds and general health,” says Prof Kenny. “But what is true is that you can beat your chronological age by following behaviors that keep you biologically young.
“So, for example, I’d say that people in their 40s and 50s should concentrate on building solid friendships – we don’t tend to meet new people later in life,” she says. “For every year after the age of 60, aim to do slightly more exercise than you did the year before. And at all ages, try to restrict your calories – again, to a greater extent than when you were younger.”
All these principles are true from the age of 60, even up to the age of 80 or 90-plus, says Prof Kenny. “In fact, just when people tell themselves ‘it’s too late’ to change, it’s absolutely the time when they need to start. Your body still has the ability to change and renew, even in your 60s and 70s – all the way up to your 90s, in fact.
“Interestingly, this research chimes very much with what we’ve known for many years from the five ‘blue’ areas of the planet,” she says. “Scientists have long identified the healthiest places to live – Okinawa in Japan; Sardinia; Nicoya in Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda in California. What these areas have in common is a high diet in fish, as they are all by the sea. The inhabitants also eat lots of plant-based foods and have de-stressing rituals built into their day.”
While people have no choice over where they are born, the good news is that we can learn from the habits of the perennially young: there are things you can do today to halt, or even reverse, the aging process.
Here are seven things you can do in your 60s to guarantee yourself a longer life.
How to guarantee you have a longer life in 2022
1. Eat like a Mediterranean
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.