How long can we expect to live these days?
Life expectancy has increased by one to two years in men and women every ten years. We're now living longer, and not just longer but also healthier lives. We still experience periods of ill health and dependency before death - that hasn’t changed – it’s just that now it happens later.
Why are we living longer?
There are two main reasons. The first is better healthcare treatment and the successful battle against infectious diseases. Vaccination programmes made a huge difference to combating diseases such as diphtheria, TB and smallpox. The second factor is a higher standard of living - for example, improved childhood and maternal nutrition and higher quality housing. We've also managed to improve healthcare for older people. A lot of money is now spent on older people, treating cancers, mental health and heart disease, which has brought down death rates.
What are the most important things we can do to live longer?
Increasing your life expectancy is about looking at your life and asking what you can do to make yourself happier? Often this is down to taking control, sometimes through physical activity or healthy eating. This then leads a person to feel more in control and starts them thinking about their health behaviour. People will revert to unhealthy behaviour unless they look at their entire life.
Do we underestimate the importance of other lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress?
I think we can do. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it's about controlling it. If your life's out of control and you can't do anything about it then that can lead to things like road rage. This kind of stress can increase your risk of heart attacks, violent behaviour and depression, but stress can also be an important natural state. Basic ageing is about damage versus repair. We repair our body through sleep so it’s important to get seven to eight hours of high-quality sleep each night. The body's repair mechanisms can be knocked out by smoking, which affects every cell in the body, diminishing its ability to repair. Similarly, if we drink too much we don’t sleep properly and this doesn’t give the body a chance to recover.
How do you calculate a person's biological age?
If you're interested in your biological age, there are five main areas you can consider to see if you're living a healthy lifestyle: emotional wellbeing, social networks, nutrition, physical activity and risky behaviours.
Try our online quiz to see how you rate and whether you need to make any lifestyle changes.
What steps can parents take to ensure children live a healthy life?
Happy, well-nurtured children tend to receive the emotional support that helps them adopt a healthy lifestyle. We need to be responsive to their emotional needs. It’s also important they learn about healthy eating and exercise. The five-a-day programme is good for children because they can make their own choices. If you say: “Eat your greens, they’re good for you”, they probably won’t. If you let them know five a day is good, but that they can choose what they have, that's more appealing.
What do you say to someone who says it’s too late to change their habits?
The biggest benefits of changing your behaviours come later in life. Of course, we should try to improve our health as early as possible, but it’s never too late. In old age a small difference can affect a person’s independence - something we call the 'fitness gap'. In fact people aged over 60 tend to be most successful in giving up smoking.
What are the main things people worry about as they get older?
The two main concerns are money and health. Money-wise, it’s personal finance and how that may affect their wellbeing. People also worry about their health, particularly losing their independence and becoming a burden on friends and family - it’s an altruistic concern.