Walking back to happiness... and possibly a longer life

Adding 30 minutes of walking to your daily routine, five days a week, can increase lifespan
Adding 30 minutes of walking to your daily routine, five days a week, can increase lifespan
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As a 109-year-old woman reveals the secret to a long and healthy life is avoiding men, Lisa Salmon discovers some easier ways to reach a ripe old age.

For centuries, scientists and philosophers have pondered the secret to a long, healthy life. None has so far come up with the same solution as Jessie Gallon.

On turning 109 earlier this month, one of the oldest centenarians shared her secret for staying young – eat porridge and stay away from men.

There may at least be something in her love of porridge. A study by Harvard University which followed more than 100,000 people for 14 years, found those who ate the most wholegrains, such as porridge (or brown rice, corn and quinoa) seemed protected from many illnesses, particularly heart disease. And it’s not the only lifestyle change which comes recommended.


New research published this month suggests the majority of the British public are unaware of the serious health implications of a poor diet combined with a lack of exercise. A study of more than 2,000 people by Nuffield Health found a third did not worry about the amount of salt or sugar they ate, even though excess sugar is linked to changes in metabolism, increased blood pressure and liver damage.

Swapping a daily fizzy drink for water will cut seven teaspoons of sugar from your diet, saving 10kg of the white stuff a year. The resulting weight loss could lengthen your life: an overweight female could add six years to her lifespan just by losing 5kg.


The Nuffield figures show that 18 per cent of Brits never do any exercise, and 40 per cent exercise less than once a month.

However, the Nuffield says adding 30 minutes of walking into your daily routine, five days a week, can add three-and-a-half years to your lifespan.


Three quarters of people get seven hours or less sleep a night, while one in 10 get less than five, says Nuffield. Yet past studies have shown that sleeping less than six hours a night makes you 12 per cent more likely to die prematurely than someone who sleeps up to eight hours.


American researchers Dr Howard Friedman and Dr Leslie Martin found in a 2011 study that prudence and persistence are key traits for a long life. Why? Because conscientious people are thought to be more likely to live healthy lifestyles, not smoke or drink to excess, and take medication as prescribed.

It’s also thought that they’re biologically predisposed to be healthier, and less prone to many diseases, possibly because of levels of chemicals like serotonin in the brain.


An Australian study of centenarians found that friends provide emotional support, which helps people deal with stress, and also boosts production of the feel-good chemicals dopamine and oxytocin, which promote brain growth and combat ageing.


The calming effect of owning an animal can reduce both blood pressure and the risk of a heart attack, University of Minnesota researchers found. And if the pet is a dog, so much the better, as another study found that owners who walk their dogs every day live an average of seven years longer than non-dog owners.