Look after your body
1.1 Take regular exercise
People who exercise regularly are less likely to get ill and more likely to live longer.
Exercise can even improve your chances of surviving cancer.
It can also strengthen your bones and reduce the risk and impact of falls – the main cause of hospital admission or death for the over 65s across Europe
Practical tip – Exercise with friends. This will help you stay motivated – and being with friends has its own health benefits (as you can see in the article on Relationships).
1.2 Don’t smoke
This will significantly increase your chances of living to your 70’s. That’s what a big study found in the US.
Practical tip – if you’re a smoker try e-cigarettes. They appear to improve your prospects of stopping smoking cigarettes.
1.3 Drink alcohol in moderation
Moderate alcohol consumption (e.g. one drink per day) may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. However, heavy drinking increases health risks like liver disease, stroke and cancer – as well as increasing the risk of accident and injury.
Practical tip – Make a list of how much alcohol you’ve drunk over the last week. The result may be sobering.
1.4 Eat a healthy diet – and avoid food with too much sugar and salt
The Mediterranean Diet has particular health benefits. It can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, of type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s. It may even reduce the risk of cancer.
When it comes to avoiding unhealthy food, some researchers have suggested that sugar is such a health risk it should be taxed like alcohol and tobacco.
Practical tips – Eat five a day (fruit and vegetables). Eat nuts, seeds, herbs and olive oil. And moderate amounts of fish, cheese, chicken, eggs and wine. Avoid preserved, red and cured meat.
And if you eat ready meals look to see if there’s a traffic light system on the packet to tell you how much sugar, salt and fat they contain.
1.5 Maintain a healthy weight
Being obese and overweight is likely to reduce your life expectancy on a similar scale to smoking. The main reason for obesity is over eating.
Practical tip – use smaller plates and avoid buffets (where research suggests people eat more). Consumer psychologists advise this reduces the risk of 'mindless overeating.'
1.6 Regular, short exposure to the sun
The sun is the main natural source of Vitamin D, which is known to help strengthen our immune system. Vitamin D3 appears to reduce the risk of dying from various causes as we get older.
Practical tip – expose your arms and face to the sun for 10 – 15 minutes per day (without sun screen) in the summer in countries like the UK. 10 minutes if you’re very fair skinned, 15 minutes if you have dark skin.
1.7 Get enough sleep – but not too much
Researchers in the US found that people who slept 7 hours per night lived longest.
Practical tip – If you have difficulty sleeping, reinforce your natural body clock by spending time outside in the light during the day and then avoiding ‘blue light’ from computer, laptop and tablet screens before you want to go to sleep.
Reviewed and updated February 2020, next review 2024