Πέμπτη, 7 Μαρτίου 2013

Healthier Life

Here are 9 tips for a longer, healthier life.
 1 Move to Japan

With the highest healthy life expectancy in the world, as well as the longest lives for women (men in Andorra just pip their Japanese counterparts to first place), Japan is clearly the place to buy a 1LDK (one room apartment with a living, dining and kitchen area). Space may be limited but a healthy life is not. On average, Japanese women can expect 75.5 years of good health while men enjoy 70.6 years. In the UK, we get 70.1 years and 67.1 years respectively. It is not just about sushi and rice, according to Professor Kenji Shibuya and colleagues at the University of Tokyo, writing in the Lancet in 2011. "Japanese people give attention to hygiene in all aspects of their daily life," they said. "This attitude might partly be attributable to a complex interaction of culture, education, climate [eg humidity, temperature], environment [eg having plenty of water and being a rice-eating nation] and the old Shinto tradition of purifying the body and mind before meeting others." (Not something we can replicate with a little bottle of hand sanitiser on the desk.) They have regular health checks.

We weren't designed to sit around – so get running. 

2 Get your blood pressure checked

Like checking the pressure of the tyres on your car, this is a very good idea. Some people have high blood pressure in the family. Others eat too much salt, don't take enough exercise, are overweight, stressed, smoke or drink too much. Most of this you can do something about, but for those who don't, a trip to the GP, who will prescribe pills, may prevent a heart attack or stroke. High blood pressure is the No 1 risk factor for early deaths and years of poor health in Europe. But if you have low blood pressure and none of the above risk factors, just a routine check on any visit to the GP for other matters is enough.

3 Eat seeds – not junk

Curiously, the Global Burden of Disease lists not only eating too little fruit (sixth-highest risk factor for early disease and death) but too few nuts and seeds (not far behind, at eighth). Too few vegetables are 12th, and low omega-3 (in oily fish, not tablet form), high processed meat and low fibre follow in that order. Too much trans fat is 19th, low calcium is 22nd and low milk consumption 23rd. So, yes, diet matters a lot and not just because eating too much makes you fat – high BMI or body mass index has a separate ranking as the fourth highest risk factor, causing heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancers. But on a diet of nuts and seeds it is also pretty difficult to get overweight.

4 Drink in moderation

One or two units a day may help reduce heart disease, but most people drink a lot more and it is doing us an increasing amount of damage. Alcohol can cause cirrhosis, which is now the 12th-highest cause of death and ill health in western Europe, fatty liver disease and liver cancer. It is also implicated in other cancers – mouth, throat and breast. And then there are all the accidents and fights in which people get hurt or killed.

5 Get your running shoes on

We were not designed to sit around and it's not good for us. The chief medical officer (CMO) says there are both mental and physical benefits to exercise. It reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, but it also improves our self esteem and reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Exactly how much exercise we need is a trickier question. The CMO says adults should be active every day. Over a week, we should be "moderately active" for a total of at least two and a half hours, which means brisk walking and cycling at a pace that warms you up and makes you breathe harder but still allows you to chat. Thirty minutes for five days of the week would do it. Or you can get really physical and take 75 minutes (total) of "vigorous activity" in the week, such as running, swimming or playing football. But we should all be either using weights or carrying heavy shopping bags to improve our muscle strength on at least two days a week as well. Got that?

Only half of long-term smokers see age 70. 

6  Don't smoke

Predictable but true. Smoking is likely to shorten your life and worse, make you suffer before you die. It is responsible for the miserable last years of most people with lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as well as triggering one in six cases of heart disease – the biggest killer in the UK. Only half of long-term smokers live past 70.

7 Stay out of hospital

Hospitals are dangerous places. There is always a risk of catching something when you are there, even though the superbug MRSA and C Difficile rates have come down and are not so much discussed at the moment. Falls in hospitals are also not uncommon, because patients can be both unsteady on their feet and uncertain of where they need to go. Good hospitals try to ship out elderly people as quickly as possible. Keeping fit and healthy – see smoking, drinking, diet and exercise above – will keep most of us off the wards for longer.

8 Don't get stressed

We do anxiety far too well in the UK. We were 15th worst out of 19 countries in the Global Burden of Disease tables for years lost to its disabling effects. One option would be to move to Spain, which scored highest in Europe for long and healthy lives (70.9 years compared to 68.6 in the UK) and also had the least anxiety. Remarkable, when you consider their economic woes and the numbers of people now out of work. Their lives appear to be healthier than ours in a number of ways – their rates of ischaemic heart disease (where the blood supply to the heart is reduced because of furred up arteries) are much lower and they score better on asthma, breast cancer, alcohol misuse and self-harm. Could it be something to do with sunshine or is it olive oil, tomatoes and fish? Perhaps both. Alternative ways to reduce stress and anxiety include exercise (see above), time to yourself and, says the NHS Choices patient website, talking to the boss about changing your working hours. Oh – and developing a sense of humour.

9 Take the train

Road injuries were the 12th-highest cause of years of life lost in the UK in 2010, but if you take just adults aged 20 to 54, they were fifth – after heart disease, self-harm, cirrhosis and breast cancer, and just above drug use. According to the independent Oxford healthcare journal Bandolier, which used 2006-7 data from sources including the World Health Organisation and the Department for Transport, the lifetime risk of dying before the age of 75 are one in 976 in a car, one in 54,433 on a plane and one in 131,313 in a train.

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