The key to longevity is staying healthy by making good lifestyle choices. After all, it’s poor habits that generally decrease life expectancy by raising the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. By Natasha Liviero, contributions by Clinical Psychologist, Joanna Kleovoulou, Director of PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre.

A study from the Harvard School of Public Health in 2010 estimated that exposure to four (largely preventable) risk factors, namely smoking, high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose and obesity reduce life expectancy in the Unites States by 4.9 years in men and 4.1 years in women! Binge drinking, common in young adults, is another preventable past time with dangerous consequences, including an elevated risk of accidents and risky sexual encounters. Chronic drinking leads to serious conditions such as liver, pancreatic and stomach disorders.

Nutritionally speaking

Following a balanced, nutritionally sound diet is a vital component of longevity. Many conditions associated with ageing can be delayed and even minimized through diet. “The first rule is to double your vegetable intake. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain a host a health enhancing and disease fighting nutrients,” says Dietitian, Heidi Lobel. “The antioxidant compounds found in fresh vegetables are largely responsible for holding back the march of time. Aiming for five fruit and vegetables a day helps to ensure adequate antioxidant intake. What’s more, ensuring that at least two different colour fruits and vegetables are eaten with each meal (lunch and dinner) will further cover the antioxidant and protective nutrient spectrum.”

South Africa’s very own Rooibos tea is top of the beverage bevy! Studies reveal that Rooibos helps promote a youthful appearance thanks to the free radical fighting antioxidants that protect against premature ageing. “Rooibos has also been shown to support the liver in the natural cleansing and detoxification process of the body, further assisting against the damaging effects of (poor) diet and environment on our health. Recent research further shows how Rooibos tea can support cardiovascular health, a key component of longevity since more than 40% of adult deaths, globally, are attributed to cardiovascular problems,” explains Vital Health Experts Dietitian, Andrea Du Plessis. So, how much Rooibos should you drink to enjoy the benefits? Andrea suggests three cups of strongly brewed Rooibos tea for a potent antioxidant punch!

Fatty fish, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon and sardines, are highly revered for their anti-ageing properties. (Omega-3 deficiencies are associated with conditions such as memory loss, arthritis and health disease). “Eating fatty fish 3-5 times a week, in place of red meat, can go a long way to enhancing health,” says Heidi. “Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood in later years, possibly because DHA is a main component in the brains synapses,” concludes Heidi.

Did you know?

You can effortlessly boost longevity by simply getting a good night’s sleep! That’s because deep, restful sleep is necessary for the body to effectively repair and rejuvenate itself.

The exercise effect

Doctors agree that regular physical activity helps to maintain healthy weight ratios, keeps the body fit and strong, protects against chronic disease and supports healthy ageing and longevity. What’s more, studies suggest mortality rates are higher amongst sedentary individuals.

Staying emotionally healthy

Our thoughts and state of mind potentially manifest physical conditions, making good mental health essential for total body wellbeing. “Mental wellbeing and physical health work interdependently,” explains Clinical Psychologist, Joanna Kleovoulou. “For example, people with a physical condition such as heart disease are more likely to present with depression and a sense of hopelessness; and people with a psychiatric condition are more susceptible to physical illness. The physical conditions of your endocrine, nervous and immune systems can influence mental wellbeing – in the same manner the state of your mental wellbeing can directly affect your physical wellbeing.” Joanna goes on to explain about the study of the interaction between psychological processes and the nervous and immune systems of the human body – the school of PENI (psychoendoneuroimmunology). “There is scientific indication of the interaction between the nervous and immune systems, and the relationship between mental processes and health. In one study, for example, all-cause mortality increased in the month following a severe stressor such as the death of a partner. Stressful life events trigger cognitive and emotional responses, which then induce sympathetic nervous system and endocrine changes, and these ultimately impair immune function and the ability to ward off disease. Health risks vary, but include higher rates of infectious disease, cancer incidence and progression, as well as HIV progression.

Up in smoke…

Smoking reduces life expectancy through several life threatening conditions, including lung cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tobacco caused 100 million deaths over the course of the 20th century alone!

The happy factor

Studies repeatedly reveal that people who are happy and have a positive disposition tend to live longer. Similarly, people with a sense of purpose also benefit from increased longevity versus those with limited to no purpose at all. Bob Proctor, advisor for the international best-seller, The Secret, teacher of mind potential and highly acclaimed life and business coach, believes there are several things we can do to add years to our lives: “First, find out what it is you love to do and dedicate your life to it. Each of us has been gifted with talents and abilities beyond our wildest imagination and we have been put here on earth to develop that talent and ability. Find yours. Secondly, have an attitude of being outwardly focused. We’ve been conditioned to be good little ‘go getters’. There is nothing wrong with that, but how about being a good little ‘go giver’. Don’t concern yourself with what you’ll get out of something just consider how you can give. And lastly, live in the present and look to the future with great expectation. Get involved in creating a big idea for yourself and make sure it includes being of service to others. This advice has served me very well over the years. I know it will work for you too.” Bob Proctor will be sharing his insights during a visit to South Africa during October and November this year. Visit for more details.

Drive carefully

The risk of serious bodily harm and or dying on the road increases with fast, reckless driving. In fact, according to the World Health Organisation, about 1.2 million people die prematurely each year on the world’s roads. The solution? Always be alert and responsible whether you are a driver or a pedestrian.

So, while the world is yet to find the elusive formula for the fountain of youth, you can still ensure a long, happy and healthy life by making smart lifestyle choices. From healthy eating to regular exercise and mental and physical wellbeing, the reward of healthy ageing and longevity is largely in your own hands.

Sources:;; Heidi Lobel; Andrea Du Plessis; Joanna Kleovoulou; Bob Proctor

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