From the keto diet to the Mediterranean diet, we are constantly being bombarded with new ways of eating which promise to make us fitter, healthier, smarter or skinnier. But now a new calculator, created by researchers from the University Of Bergen in Norway, claims to be able to reveal how following an ‘optimal’ diet could grant you an extra decade of life.

Using data gleaned from the 2018 Global Burden of Disease study, the researchers have used algorithms to create a calculator that can estimate how eating whole grains, fish, nuts, meat, legumes, dairy, vegetables, fruit and various other foodstuffs affect a person’s longevity.

After a person puts their current diet into the calculator, as well as the changes they hope to make (for example, cutting out meat) the system uses algorithms to calculate how those changes might affect how long they live for. According to the calculator, if a 20-year-old ate the ‘optimal’ diet for the rest of their lives, they could live more than 12.5 years longer than those who ate a typical Western diet.

While the benefits would be less apparent for older dieters, even a 60-year-old who made the change to an optimal diet could stand to gain around 8.5 years.

Recognising that the ‘optimal’ diet – which includes stripping out red meat, processed meats and sugary drinks entirely and substituting them with more whole grains, fish, legumes, fruit and vegetables – isn’t practical for everyone, the researchers have also included a ‘feasible’ diet, halfway between the average diet and the optimal diet.

But living longer, even with a good diet, doesn’t necessarily equal living better. There’s plenty of other research out there indicating easy ways to optimise your life now so you can reap the benefits later...

1. Potter about the house

Everyone knows that hard exercise like running, swimming or cycling is good for you, but even a little bit of movement can do wonders. A recent study from the University of California of 5,000 women aged between 63 and 97 found that those who pottered about the house were healthier and less at risk of death.

The study found those who spent at least four hours per day on their feet had a 62 per cent lower chance of dying from heart disease, a 43 per cent lower chance of getting cardiovascular disease, and a 30 per cent lower risk of suffering a stroke over the next six to seven years than those who spent less than two hours doing so.

The women spending time moving weren’t doing hard exercise either – they were doing activities that got them up and moving including things as simple as cooking, washing up, gardening, showering and housework. It just goes to show, any movement is better than no movement at all.

2. Eat just a little bit less

It isn’t rocket science to say that stuffing your face isn’t going to do wonders for your health, but a study from the Yale Research Centre for Ageing found that reducing your calorie intake by as little as 14 per cent could boost your immune system.

The study was based on previous research in flies, worms and mice, which has shown that lab animals tend to live longer on calorie restricted diets, but this is the first time the effect has been seen in humans.

The researchers looked at the thymus, a gland which produces T-cells, an essential part of the immune system. In healthy adults, this gland is already 70 per cent non-functional by the age of 40, producing fewer T-cells as a result. However, this new research found that the participants in the study who reduced their calorie intake by 14 per cent had a greater function volume in the thymus than those who didn’t, meaning that they produced more T-cells and potentially had a stronger immune system.

3. Brush your teeth and don’t forget to visit the dentist

Social isolation is a key risk factor for dementia, but it also increases your chances of suffering from heart disease, mental health disorders and premature death.

But now a new study from New York University’s College Of Nursing has found that the higher the number of teeth you lose, the more likely you are to be socially isolated. Older adults who were socially isolated had, on average, 2.1 fewer natural teeth and 1.4 times the rate of losing their teeth than those with stronger social ties.

While more research is required to assess whether the link is correlation or causation, the study’s authors have theorised that losing teeth might be having an effect on what people eat, their speech and their self-esteem.

4. Remember your hearing aids

A link between hearing loss and dementia has been noted by researchers for many years. The reasons aren’t entirely understood but cognition experts have speculated that hearing loss might cause people to retreat from socialising, increasing loneliness.

However, there’s a potential solution. A new study of 4,300 American adults aged over 63 from Ulster University and the University of Oxford found that while those with hearing impairments were twice as likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, an early sign of dementia, those who wore hearing aids regularly had no difference to those with normal hearing.

5. Be kind to yourself

Perhaps easier said than done, but despite what the sceptics who roll their eyes at this sort of thing might think, proof it is good for you comes in the form of a study from the University Of Pittsburgh.

The research focused on middle-aged women who were questioned about how often they feel inadequate and how they perceive their flaws - whether with tenderness or disappointment. They then received an ultrasound of their arteries.

The study found that women who were more self-compassionate had healthier arteries, linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes, even years later.

How to become more self-compassionate? Meditation and mindfulness practices can relieve stress, which has been shown to make it easier to treat yourself with kindness. There’s another benefit to doing these things too. Another study, this time from Michigan State University, has found that a form of meditation altered brain activity to make it easier to spot and prevent yourself from making mistakes.

The meditation, called open monitoring, which asks users to focus on everything going on in their mind and body while they sit still and quietly, was found to change brain activity and make it easier for meditators to spot mistakes in their work.

6. Make sure the air is fresh when you work out

It goes without saying that exercise is good for you, having positive effects on pretty much every aspect of your body’s functioning from physical to mental health. However, if you’re going to work out it’s worth seeking out the freshest air possible to do it in.

A study from the University of Arizona showed that the beneficial effects of exercise on the brain were muted when people exercised in areas with high air pollution, such as jogging alongside busy roads. This builds on previous research which has warned that exercise in polluted air exacerbates the risks associated with air pollution anyway including worsening of existing asthma or other lung conditions, and increased risk of heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. This happens because when breathing more heavily due to aerobic exercise you breathe in more particulates and polluted air.

The Daily Telegraph

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