20 steps to increase the odds

TO LIVE well and to live long, the very first step you need to undertake is to check that you are not overweight or obese. You are considered overweight if your Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25 and 30. If your BMI is over 30, you are obese.

Being very fat, or obese, has been linked to many serious health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and arthritis. These conditions can have life-threatening consequences.

To increase your odds that you will make it to that ripe old age of, say, 80 and beyond, here are some "longevity best practices" you may want to adopt as part of your lifestyle.

1. Eat healthy, eat safely

Eat less processed food, such as white bread, donuts, cake, biscuits, chocolates, ice cream and muffin. Processed foods are packed with refined sugar. Sugar makes your body cells replicate faster. Unfortunately, they can only replicate a certain number of times before the process stops. So, when the cells die, there may be no new cells to replace them. That means your body dies. Hence, although sugar feeds the cells and helps the replication process, it shortens their life span, and by extension, your very life.

Avoid food that has been left in the open, for more than an hour, such as those curry puffs, kuehs and cooked food dishes you see in kopitiams and food courts. In Singapore's warm weather, bacteria multiply extremely fast on the food. Eating such exposed food and its colony of bacteria not only upsets your tummy but may even upset your life span!

2. Make regular exercise a life habit

According to Dr Timothy Church, director of Preventive Medical Research Lab in the US, low fitness is one of the strongest risk factors in premature dying from heart disease. As you age, you lose 1-2 percent of your fitness every year, he says in a BBC Health Check interview in July 2007.

Hence, doing exercise to keep fit is not a luxury but a life-saving necessity. The benefits of exercise are felt in all areas of your life. If you have not done so, gradually introduce exercise until you are doing it for 30 minutes or more every day.

3. Develop a sleep schedule

It is not as important to get a certain number of hours of sleep, so much as it is to get the same amount of sleep, at the same time, every day. Sleep gives your body a chance to heal and regenerate. Having a stable sleeping routine will help your body take care of itself more easily.

If you do not carry out successful sleep cycles over an extended period of time (more than 48 hours) this can seriously affect your physical and mental health.

4. Have close relationships

People who are able to share life's ups and downs with their partner, relatives and close friends, have been shown to live longer and healthier lives. This is due to the alleviation of stress, boredom and depression. Cherish your friends and family.

5. Drink plenty of plain water

Plain water is the best weapon against toxins and many other violators of your health (e.g. alcohol, coke, sugary drinks, fatty food, and contaminated food). Water flushes out and cleanses your system.

6. Avoid alcohol

Mindless people hanging out in pubs refer jokingly to their drinks as “poison” . But it is not a joke because alcohol (beer, wine, brandy, and all spirits) does nothing except poison your body and paralyse your brain. And when you drink, and then drive, you can expect a permanently paralysing end to your life.

7. Be protective of your body wherever you are

This includes looking both ways before you cross the street, using seat belts when in a car, or wearing protective gear when you are riding a motorcycle, and not flying with certain airlines that have a history of plane crashes.

It also means you do not answer your cell phone when you are driving, not even when you have a hands-free device sticking out of your ear. Holding a phone conversation takes your mental focus away from the road.

8. Identify, eliminate causes of stress and depression

Stress has a strong negative impact on your heart, your brain and other important organs.

There are some stress factors such as a destructive relationship, predatory friends and bad habits which you can and should reduce or eliminate, for the sake of a better, longer life. In certain situations, however, such as holding down a difficult but necessary job, you have to learn to cope with stress by practising relaxation techniques or meditation.

9. No smoke

Smoking causes cancer, and cancer usually results in premature death. It's as simple as that.

10. Attend yearly medical checkups

Identifying potentially deadly health problems early can result in their eradication.

11. Stock up on antioxidants

Antioxidants slow the process of aging. Antioxidants can be found in a number of fruits (oranges, bananas, mangosteens, etc) and vegetables, and also in herbal supplements and tea. Stock up on antioxidants in your body.

12. Practise safe sex

Enjoy regular sex but keep yourself covered.

13. Wear sunblock

Even if you are dark skinned and have no history of skin cancer in your family, the increasing number of UVA and UVB rays hitting the Earth from the sun pose a threat to everyone who spends more than 15 minutes a day out of the house or office. Get SPF 30 or higher.

14. Explore the unknown

Seriously, the worst scares are created by your own internal perception. If you are in constant fear of anything or everything (phobias) you become as fragile as an ant, asking for life to step on you. Be as passive and easy going as you can.

There are things like earthquakes, stray bullets, cars and airplanes that can kill in an instant but which you cannot defend against. Yet, you don't have a morbid fear of anyway of them. Fear is a tool, and it has a purpose, but it is most often bad for your well-being. Be aware, be confident, and explore new places, try new ideas.

15. Look on the bright side

Having an optimistic point of view is healthy. A cheerful attitude and a sense of humour provide a much stronger resilience to any health problem.

16. Eat fish

Eating fish two to three times a week can reduce your chance of contracting coronary heart disease by up to 30 percent as well as help you reduce your risk of other factors such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, stroke and asthma.

17. Keep working

It has been proven that people who stay active in their jobs, or voluntary work, live longer. Playing an active part in your community when you’re retired, will keep your life meaningful, to the end.

18. Read books, go back to school

Reading books exercises your brain, and a well-exercised brain tends to be less prone to Alzheimer’s disease. Going back to school to acquire new skill sets and knowledge makes you mentally active and disciplined. Demographic studies across the globe have consistently found that the more years you spend in school, the longer would be your life span.

19. Be medically insured

Generous insurance coverage for major illnesses and hospitalisation alleviates the stressful concern over whether you will have money for good medical treatment should a major illness or injury strike.

20. Eat less, lose weight

Excess body weight is hard on your muscles and joints. Carrying around extra weight puts more pressure than is necessary on your knee joints, hips and back. While this might not have a huge effect in your youth, you will feel it as you get older.

Find out how many calories your body needs to function each day. This number varies, depending upon your metabolism and how physically active you are. Your body mass also plays a part as more calories are suitable for naturally bigger people, and fewer calories for smaller people.

You may like to adopt the Buddhists’ excellent practice of eating only two light meals a day – breakfast at dawn, and a meal just before noon. Your metabolism slows down towards night, and is less efficient in digesting food. So, what you consume during dinner will be mostly stored as unwanted fat.

Lord Buddha himself lived a healthy, productive life on just one meal a day, collected during alms round. You too can emulate his practice.

Contents  | Live smart & safe 

20 steps to increase your odds in living long