Living Longer


Living longer

That’s what we all want, to live a long and prosperous life. And we want to do it in some sort of style. We don’t want arthritis, we don’t want heart disease and we definitely don’t want Alzheimer’s disease.

On the surface compared to other countries our life span is good. On average Australian females can expect to live 84 years whilst their male counterparts generally fall 4 years short getting to 80 years- still worth a pat on the back.

The world has certainly come a long way, by contrast in 1890 a man would be lucky to see his 47th birthday and his wife might last a bit longer a nice half century of 50 years. Not quite enough time to see the grand children grow up!

But the length isn’t even the best measuring stick- quality of life is what we all want. Pleasingly more than half (56%) of Australians rated their health as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good. Just over 1 in 10 (10.4%) Australians rated their health as ‘fair’, and 4.4% as ‘poor’. (ABS 2015e)

Whilst it is heartening to see such statistics, it is vitally important to understand that the things that killed us 120 years ago are not the players in our early demise now. Chronic diseases such as cancer, coronary heart disease, obesity, metabolic disease and diabetes are becoming increasingly common. In fact one estimate I read recently suggested that the entire NSW state budget will be required for the health care bill for chronic disease management as early as 2032, that is less than 15 years away!

Despite our increased time on the planet we are also seeing a greater rise in suffering, people are not living longer, we have just gotten better at slow down the dying process. And it is disturbing to watch.

So if we want to live we need to dig in and get to know what challenges lay ahead and what we can do to avoid this sort of health strife. Then 90th birthdays will become all the rage.

Chronic diseases are the leading cause of ill health and death in Australia, and have been for decades—largely replacing the infectious diseases of 50–100 years ago, such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. In 2014–15, based on self-reported data from the NHS, more than 11 million Australians (50%) had at least one of eight selected chronic conditions (arthritis, asthma, back problems, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, or a mental or behavioural condition) and addition to this, 5.3 million had two or more of the eight conditions. That is a lot of doctor’s appointments, tests, hospitals and anxiety.

Causes of death per annum- a table from the National Health Survey

Living longer

And here’s the crazy thing, largely all of these disease are preventable! How do we do it? The answer is lifestyle modification. Many of the diseases listed above share contributing factors like tobacco smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and excess body weight.

No surprises there.

We all now know about the pitfalls of smoking and fortunately the incidence of smoking in Australia is on the decline. But what other factors cause us to suffer from chronic diseases for a large part of or adult?

The five risk that caused the most burden were tobacco use, high body mass, high alcohol use, physical inactivity and high blood pressure. You can read about these more in a report prepared by the Australian Government, which can be found here.

WOW… we can change all of these risk factors!

Change is often hard, especially when our habits are deeply engrained. But if we make the prospect of LIVING longer more attractive, if the carrot is big enough, then change becomes easier- more on that towards the end of this blog.

At a simple level people often view health as the presence or absence of disease and medically measured risk factors. However, as we just pointed out, lifestyle factors are the drivers and the presence of disease or symptoms is just an outcome. The World Health Organisation defines health as –

‘As a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (WHO 1946).

So how do we attain this? What is the solution?

To start with hear is a neat three part bundle for you.

  1. Eat well
  2. Move well
  3. Think well

If we get this right, we go a long way to having our bodies operate at their best and the chances of dying from the diseases of lifestyle diminish rapidly.

Eat well.

Is there is anything more confusing than food? Here are some simple and fast points for you to consider.

  • Refined sugar offers no health benefit but does cause quite a bit of harm. End of story.
  • Food needs to be real and raw. Packaged and processed foods should be avoided. Food should look like what it looked like when it was growing on the plant.
  • 2 serves of fruit and 5 veggies minimum per day. You can have more but keep the same ratio of fruit to veggies.
  • Good fats and oils include – meat, deep sea fish, eggs, avocado, olives nuts and seeds and coconut
  • Good protein includes – fish, meat, eggs.
  • Carbohydrates – they should come from intact vegetables and fruits. Furthermore, don’t drink your calories in the form of soft drinks, juices, alcohol.

Move well.

Our sedentary lives are killing us. A regular Australian adult day looks something like this- out of bed, drive to work, sit down all day on the computer, drive home and then sit on the couch and have tea. That is not healthy, It is COMMON but it is NOT NORMAL.

It has been shown that people who do 30 minutes walking per day live four times longer than those who didn’t. Wow, and this was regardless of weight. Double WOW.

So get your runners on and go for a walk. How far? 30 minutes per day and you will increase your chances of LIVING longer. Want to get creative? Then why not try one of the following too- dancing, table tennis, yoga, Pilates, they all work!

Think well.

Certainly, staying positive, being happy and having gratitude are all good concepts. In fact in a study by Dr George Vaillant of the Harvard Medical School, it was found that six human qualities were strong predictors of a long and happy life. These were:

  • Future orientation – the ability to plan and hope.
  • The ability to be grateful.
  • The ability to forgive
  • The capacity to love without smothering.
  • General optimism about the future; and
  • An ability to interact with people

I am not saying this is easy, though focussing on improving these traits will lead to a longer and more fruitful life- what else could we wish for?

I hope you enjoyed this piece and if you have any questions, fire back an email – – I would love to hear your feedback!

Dr Pete Dynes

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