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Longevity: Three ‘modifiable’ factors associated with ‘longer survival’ past the age of 75

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Life is a lottery: you didn’t choose your genes or the environment you’re thrust into. And the stakes are high. These factors can shape the trajectory of your life. However, research suggests there is much you can do to better your circumstances.

A BMJ study sought to identify “modifiable” factors associated with longevity among adults aged 75 and older.

Researchers followed 1,810 adults aged 75 or more participating in the Kungsholmen Project, over the course of 18 years.

The Kungsholmen Project is a longitudinal population-based study on ageing and dementia, carried out by the Stockholm Gerontology Research Center in collaboration with Aging Research Center (ARC), Karolinska Institutet.

What did the researchers learn?

Over the course of the study, 1,661 participants died. Half of the participants lived longer than 90 years. Half of the current smokers died one year earlier than non-smokers.

A number of modifiable factors sprung out of the research.

Physical activity was most strongly associated with survival; the median age at death of participants who regularly swam, walked, or did gymnastics was two years greater than those who did not.

What’s more, the median survival of people with a low risk profile (healthy lifestyle behaviours, participation in at least one leisure activity, and a rich or moderate social network) was 5.4 years longer than those with a high risk profile (unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, no participation in leisure activities, and a limited or poor social network).

Even among the “oldest old” (85 years or older) and people with chronic conditions, the median age at death was four years higher for those with a low risk profile compared with those with a high risk profile, the researchers wrote.

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The researchers concluded: “Even after age 75 lifestyle behaviours such as not smoking and physical activity are associated with longer survival.

“A low risk profile can add five years to women’s lives and six years to men’s.”

These associations were also present among the oldest old and in people with chronic conditions, they added.

Drilling down into the details

The optimal diet for boosting longevity is subject to debate but there are some general dietary principles to heed.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet is an important part of maintaining good health, and can help you feel your best.

This means eating a wide variety of foods in the right proportions, and consuming the right amount of food and drink to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

The Eatwell Guide shows that to have a healthy, balanced diet, people should try to:

  • Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • Base meals on higher fibre starchy foods like potatoes, bread, rice or pasta
  • Have some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks)
  • Eat some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein
  • Choose unsaturated oils and spreads, and eat them in small amounts
  • Drink plenty of fluids (at least six to eight glasses a day).

“If you’re having foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts,” advises the guide.

It adds: “Try to choose a variety of different foods from the five main food groups to get a wide range of nutrients.”

Most people in the UK eat and drink too many calories, too much saturated fat, sugar and salt, and not enough fruit, vegetables, oily fish or fibre.

The Eatwell Guide does not apply to children under the age of two because they have different nutritional needs.

Between the ages of two and five years, children should gradually move to eating the same foods as the rest of the family in the proportions shown in the Eatwell Guide.

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