What is the secret to—if not eternal life, then a long one, that’s also well-lived? Kathleen Baird-Murray asks the experts for their tips for prioritising your health.
1. The goal: 10 extra years of a life you love
“We have improved longevity,” says Professor Tim Spector OBE, genetic epidemiologist, author of The New Science of Eating Well, and the scientific co-founder of ZOE, the personalised nutrition company “but we haven’t really improved health span.” There’s a lot that medical science can do to save your life, but for chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, dementia, strokes and cancers, we need to be better equipped at helping ourselves. Spector argues that it can be slow to getting a diagnosis and treatment, with the real reason for cancer statistics going up having more to do with the fact that our lifestyles are getting worse. “The best thing we can do is change our mindset. Rather than just waiting for our bodies to fall apart, and then have slightly ineffective treatments, the mindset needs to be, “How can I have ten extra years of healthy life, of a life that I can enjoy?”
2. Knowledge is power
“Our genetic make-up is only a possibility of risks,” says Dr Sabine Donnai, founder and CEO of Viavi Health Strategy. “Think of it like playing cards. The hand you’ve been dealt with—your genetic make-up—is the cards, so play it cleverly. That starts with looking at your cards, and understanding the rules of the game.” Her own four “non-negotiable” rules are: avoiding sugars, supplementing with vitamin D and omega3, maintaining (or increasing) muscle mass and meditation. Donnai advises her patients to opt for two types of tests when seeking an understanding of their longevity potential: those that measure the onset of chronic disease (glucose, insulin, GSP, low density lipoprotein or cholesterol, body mass index and blood level indicators of inflammation); and those that measure different biological ages, for which she favours the Dunedin speed of ageing test. Ask your doctor for an annual blood work check up; or book in with Dr Donnai herself.
3.Take a longevity holiday
Equally, you could multi-task your annual holiday with a trip to a longevity-spa and take advantage of the medicalised, diagnostic-focused, wellness programmes designed to maximise our health just when we’re at our most relaxed. The downside—optimum health and stunning locations come at a price, and it’s not a cheap one—but on Vogue’s list of dream health destinations are: Mayrlife, and its pioneering personalised diets, medical support, and anti-inflammatory programmes designed to slow down biological ageing, while in the spectacular surrounds of Lake Altaussee in Austria; Burgenstock Hotel and Alpine Spa in Switzerland, with its state-of-the-art diagnostic tests set to a backdrop of the dramatic Lake Lucerne. There’s also SHA Wellness and its healthy ageing consultation complete with telomeric length and senescence immune profiling, as well as their delicious and world- renowned macrobiotic menu, while we also rate Six Senses Ibiza and its RoseBar longevity programmes where over a period of one, three or seven days their medical experts help you discover new ways to feel revitalised, via nutritional support, exercise, biohacking, as well as specific treatments around advanced longevity science; or the exquisite Palace Merano, in Italy, with its new Revital Detox for Longevity programme, where Traditional Chinese Medicine and the latest in western science are combined with a nutritionally balanced menu in a bid to find balance between body and mind. With panoramic mountain views and endless nature trails to walk along, it’s both relaxing and life-changing.
4. Avoid ultra-processed foods
Keep your gut healthy by eating 30 different plants a week to ensure you have plenty of diversity within your diet, says Spector, who also prioritises the four k’s—kefir, (sauer)kraut, kimchi and kombucha, which have all been shown to reduce inflammation. Meanwhile, avoid processed foods at all costs. Here’s a wake up call: the mere fact of eating ultra processed food increases your risk of death by 29 per cent according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemology, “Ultra-processed foods have such a detrimental effect on our health, all our lives,” says Spector. “And that’s because it’s affecting our gut health. We don’t have the full data yet, it’s still fairly new, but if you combine the epidemic of ultra-processed food and our lack of gut health, these have the biggest impact on our healthspan and lifespan. Unlike genetics, the good news here is that it’s reversible, but we need to take action now—the UK is the worst ranked in Europe for ultra processed foods in children, whose diet is typically 65% UPF.”
5. A smoothie for life
“This smoothie always makes me feel great, I’m full for hours and it feels nourishing for my body,” says Rhian Stephenson, the Nutritional Therapist and Naturopath who founded the supplements brand ARTAH. Stephenson swears by blood sugar management, food quality, and what she calls a “longevity-focused cleanse” twice a year, where she focuses on cellular repair and rejuvenation, to keep healthy.
Each of the smoothie ingredients has a part to play. A few slices of peeled turmeric and ginger have anti-inflammatory qualities; one tbsp of chia seeds provides amino acids and fibre; one avocado is a healthy source of fat; two medjool dates add fibre; three handfuls of mixed dark frozen fruit and a handful of greens are rich in vitamins, minerals and polyphenols. Stephenson also adds a dose of Artah Cellular Hydration, for essential electrolytes, extra Vitamin C and adaptogenic Maca. Blend with 250mls of water and 250mls of plant milk, adding more water if needed. Serves two.
6. Look after your teeth
Look after your teeth; gum disease, an indicator of chronic inflammation, is increasingly linked to a wide range of health problems, from Alzheimer’s to heart disease and diabetes. Dr Milad Shadrooh, Oral-B Dentist Ambassador, recommends brushing with an electric toothbrush twice daily for two minutes before breakfast and then again before bed at night as well as once-daily rinsing with a good mouthwash, and once-daily flossing using interdental brushes or an oral irrigator. “You also need a good toothpaste with the right amount of fluoride—1450ppm for adults—as this will reduce the potential for tooth decay,” he says. “It is important not to swallow the toothpaste, but instead to spit out the excess. Don’t rinse afterwards, that way the fluoride continues to protect the teeth.
7. Weight training is key
“As the years go by, you need to try harder to keep up your muscle mass,” says Dr Donnai. “Weight training will increase your growth hormone production, as well as collagen, sex hormones, energy, and help you to de-stress and keep your body fat down.”
8. Ice, ice baby
From plunging your face in cold water (I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re prone to broken capillaries or rosacea) to cold showers, to state of the art cryo-chambers, there’s an ice bath out there for you. With increasing evidence that controlled cold exposure can reduce inflammation and increase longevity, Lakes by Yoo now offers guided cold water immersions as part of the new wellness development programme to invigorate and kick-start the metabolism. The Ice Bath by Brass Monkey is set to below two degrees, with 15-30mm sheets of ice released in cycles, so you’re bathing in ice rather than just ice-cold water.
9. Relationships have an impact on your health
“An often underestimated longevity factor is social engagement,” says TCM practitioner, Dr John Tsagaris, “as loneliness and social isolation have been linked with a higher risk of chronic diseases and premature death.” But beware the fear of being alone if it keeps you in an unhappy relationship for longer. “Staying with someone who is destructively critical and unkind is debilitating for psyche and soma,” says Jane Haynes. “Whatever our relationship status is, we all—from birth to death—need people to communicate with and ideally have at least one intimate relationship where we can drop our mask and be recognised in our vulnerability. Nobody likes waking up alone in the dark with a panic attack but is it even worse if there is someone there who couldn’t care less?”
10. Goodnight, sleep tight
Do as yogis do and push the cyclic pattern of negative attitudes far away so that tomorrow will be an even better day. “It’s an uncompromising step to developing a long life,” says Sandeep Agarwalla Premananda, Head of Yoga at the Ananda in the Himalayas. He suggests a Review of the Day—where we “watch” our days’ actions and behaviours before going to sleep. “The practice makes you aware of your limitations and puts a conscious break to negative patterns.”
This article first appeared in British Vogue.