Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Secrets to a Longer Life: Get and Stay Married

(Not that I can speak from personal experience ...)


Secrets to a longer life: buy a cat, avoid main roads, get married (and stay married)

You know what's bad for you. Now scientists reveal what time it could costyouBy Roger Dobson15 August 2004If you want to live longer, get a cat. Calm down, think positively, stopeating rubbish, lose weight, go to college, make some more friends andfind a husband or wife who will make you happy.Do all these things, scientists declare in their latest research, and youcould live up to 30 years longer than someone who doesn't. Oh, and ithelps (although it's probably a bit late to be told) if you can be born inAndorra.On the other hand, getting a divorce, living close to a busy road andleaving school at 16 can take years off your life. We all know that heavysmoking and heaving drinking will result in an early call from the GrimReaper - 10 years early, to be precise - but now scientists have been ableto measure accurately the effects of a much wider range of lifestylechoices on longevity.Living close to a main road is not a good idea, for example. It producesresults similar to those found in people who suffer from heart disease ordiabetes."The ageing effect due to traffic pollution was only slightly lower thanthe ageing effect associated with these chronic diseases,'' says a report.Scientists in Canada found that people living near big roads died two anda half years earlier than those who lived away from the traffic."Long-term exposure to particulate and gaseous air pollution ... is animportant risk factor for mortality.''The research, by scientists from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada,was based on more than 5,000 people over the age of 40. Those living nearmain roads had an 18 per cent increased risk of premature death.If you must live by the traffic, try to be posh. A second new report byeconomists at the National University of Ireland looks at the years oflife lost for different social classes and jobs. There are bigdifferences. "People who live in disadvantaged circumstances have moreillnesses, greater distress, more disability and shorter lives than thosewho are more affluent,'' says Eamon O'Shea.Similar research in the UK shows that higher social status is vital for along life. The average lifespan is 78 years, and the difference in lifeexpectancy in the UK between the highest and lowest social classes isaround nine years.If weren't born with a silver spoon in your mouth, however, try not toworry - because chronic stress can also take years off life. According toresearchers at Ohio University, long-term stress leads to theoverproduction of pro-inflammatory cells which are linked to heart diseaseand diabetes, which take three to four years off lifespan.Education, or rather the lack of it, can be a marker for prematuremortality too. An American study has found that people without a highschool education lost 9.3 years. That is thought to be because those earlyleavers were more likely to adopt unhealthy lifestyles.You don't have to have a master's degree to know that fat and fags are badfor you. Smoking, especially after the age of 40, knocks an average of 10years off a lifespan, with a range of diseases likely to bring about anearly end, from lung cancer to heart disease. Obesity cuts nine years offlife, while being overweight can cost three years. Women who are obesewith a body mass index greater than 45 lose 13 years of life. When obesepeople smoke, the combined years lost add up to 14.So those are the things that can kill you early - but for goodness' sakedon't worry about them. People who somehow manage to remain positive aboutgetting older - despite wrinkles and love handles and bits that fall off -live longer.Research at Yale University found that older people with positiveperceptions of ageing lived 7.5 years longer than those with less positiveideas. The difference remained even when scientists took into account age,gender, socio-economic status, loneliness and overall health.If you've read this far without feeling gloomy then you probably have ahappy personality - which research suggests can add an extra nine years tothe average life, particularly when the person acquires lots of friends.For the lonely, a cat or even a goldfish can help: owning a pet addsmonths to your life.A good partner is harder to find than a nice puppy, but a happy marriageis calculated to be worth an extra five years. This may be because marriedmen are statistically much less likely to take risks than single men. Andthey are more likely to be well looked after when ill (although the ageingeffects on long-suffering spouses is not recorded). It helps to have agedparents: centenarians are five times more likely to be the children ofpeople who lived long.And if you want your child to have a good innings, get on a plane toAndorra. It tops the lifespan table with an average age of 83.