As you may have guessed, I am always on the lookout for ways to stay happy and healthy. At 62 I’m also increasingly interested in any new information that shares innovative research and actions for those of us who want to continue living that way in the years to come. So, when I heard about a new book called The Longevity List—Myth Busting The Top Ways to Live A Long & Healthy Life I immediately requested a review copy. Authored by Professor Merlin Thomas from Melbourne, Australia, this book both confirms what many of us have learned through the years and shares new insights about what it takes to stay healthy. Regardless of your age today, anyone who plans to live as long as possible would be SMART to consider his ideas.
The book is broken down into sixteen different ideas that are commonly held about the basis of good health. While all are interesting, I decided to share ten that he mentions that I consider to be the most important. If I can remember these on a daily basis, surely, I will be well on my way to a long, healthy and happy life.
1) Every “body” is different and moderation is a key. The most important message I gathered from this book isn’t even one of his chosen sixteen. Instead, it is his repeated reminder for us all to follow the needs and requirements of our own unique genetics, temperament, and environment if we want to stay healthy and live a long life. We can’t alter everything, but we can definitely influence many factors related to our health.
Like most of us, I’ve learned that as the years go by, my body does not respond the same way to different types of food and activities that it did just a few short years ago. Other people’s bodies react differently from the time they are born. We each need to remember that, and then make adjustments to find maximum health for our unique selves, right where we are.
Another very important key to that awareness is the message of moderation. Thomas repeatedly says that with most of the foods, beverages, and activities that we decide to include, nearly all of them are more readily beneficial to a long life when we do them in moderation.
2) Finding love and belonging is critical to a long life. Thomas points out that those who are lonely are twice as likely to have heart attacks and four times less likely to survive them. Issues like cancer, stroke and other diseases are more common. Stable, intimate relationships matter—whether they are from having a spouse, a child, a close friend or even a pet. We need other beings to live long and happy—so let’s make the effort and make it a priority.
3) Is alcohol good for us or bad for us? Recent news has implied that drinking alcohol is a key to a longer—if not happier—life. Thomas admits that current research confirms that moderate drinking can be correlated to added years. However, he states that there are no clear studies that clarify this phenomenon. In fact, he believes that what has been discovered may just indicate that a person who can limit their drinking in a moderate way may actually be showing the across-the-board behavior of self-control and self-awareness. So instead of the alcohol being the cause of a long life, it is the behavior that provides the benefit. He also states that there is no clear data proving that wine is better than beer or other liquors. What is usually the most problematic are the mixes which often contain high amounts of sugar with excess calories. And again, moderation is the real key.
4) What about coffee or other caffeine-rich beverages? Thomas claims that caffeine is a mild, and legal, performance-enhancing drug. It does pick us up and often keeps our thinking sharp and our memory intact. He also reports that studies show that people who drink tea and coffee have a slightly lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and dementia. The only reasons coffee or other caffeine should be avoided is if our particular body has a negative reaction, we regularly overindulge, or we can’t afford the cost!
5) Why chocolate deserves to be a part of a long and healthy life—especially for women! Thomas states while most of the benefits that come from chocolate are very mild, women “are slightly more sensitive than men to its effects, especially when they are pregnant.” And while chocolate has chemicals within it that are mind-altering, it would take large amounts of it in a primarily pure form to be noticeable for most of them. As I can attest, the darker the chocolate the more satisfying it is, and the less is needed for a happy result. Again, if people enjoy chocolate and find it mood-enhancing they should eat it—in moderation of course. Also note that white chocolate consists of cocoa butter (fat) and sugar, so it offers no nutritional value whatsoever.
6) The importance of exercise. Thomas doesn’t come right out and say we “have to” exercise regularly if we want to stay healthy and live a long life—but he repeatedly points out that the majority of us MUST keep moving. He claims that “People who are habitually active (even if they don’t exercise) live about five years longer on average than those who don’t.” And staying active isn’t just to keep the weight down, Thomas reports that when our muscles are active they send messages to our body and brain that makes it run much more efficiently. He recommends a full hour of exercise/active movement each and every day.
Thomas is so convinced that regular activity is essential to a long life that he says, “…of all the things we can do for our health, the dividends from any investment in physical activity may be more meaningful than anything else we can buy into.” Not only does he suggest we find activities we enjoy and will thereby do regularly, he also believes that those of us who sit behind computers (not to mention a TV) get up once an hour (Yes—every hour!) with the intention to move our bodies in a physical way.
7) What foods are most problematic? The wide range of foods that Thomas addresses in the book includes sugar in all forms, starches, fruits and vegetables and those that contain fat and typically increase cholesterol. Again, how these affect us as individuals is often different, so we have to know our own bodies and how they react. One of the biggest problems with sugar, fat, and starches is how they grow our waistlines as we age. The empty calories that come with overindulgence in these foods adds to the problem of belly fat and other excess fat in our bodies, and that is detrimental to a long life. Our bodies do not like excess belly fat and anything we can do to keep that in check is important.
8) How pollution is as problematic to us as smoking. I think most people these days are well aware of how smoking dramatically limits the potential for a long life. Unfortunately, not as many are equally aware of the perils in the air we breathe—especially those of us who live in cities of any size. Thomas points out, “The combination of pollution and smoking results in more deaths in humans across the world than any other single cause.” Wow!
9) Ways to avoid the common cold. According to Thomas, the common cold is the one illness that “will influence our lives and health, more than any other.” What can we do? Suggestions include eating well, exercising, reducing stress, getting good sleep, as well as washing your hands often and keeping them away from your face. And Thomas also believes that because we are infectious a couple of days before we have symptoms, while we are sick, and then up to 7 to 10 days after we are sick, there is little point in staying home a couple of days, so we don’t infect others.
10) Stress and poor sleep are not healthy for a long life. As most of us know, many health issues result from a conglomeration of problematic behaviors. Stress, worry, depression and lack of good quality sleep all go hand-in-hand. Thomas says, “Stress causes suffering. Suffering shortens life.” Instead, if we can learn to “stay resilient, optimistic, confident and calm” we can cope.
Overall, I found many of the suggestions offered by Thomas to be helpful and interesting. However, the book is rather difficult to read. Scattered among the nuggets that I found fascinating are dozens of stories and information that are distracting. I was also disappointed that he left out any reference to how important it is to be optimistic about growing older as a way to increase our longevity. Although growing bodies of research now point this out, it was not mentioned at all in the book.
Still, anyone who loves to read about health and the importance of good behaviors towards a long life may be interested in learning more. As always, it’s imperative to remember that the SMART approach is one that stays awake, aware and constantly learning—in moderation of course!
Okay your turn: What do you think of these suggestions? Do you include them in your life, or do you have another element you believe is essential for a long and healthy life? Please share in the comments below.