Most people want to live a long and happy life – or at least avoid a short and miserable one. If you’re in that majority, then you’re in luck. Over the last decade, a quiet research revolution has occurred in our understanding of the biology of ageing.
The challenge is to turn this knowledge into advice and treatments we can benefit from. Here we bust the myth that lengthening healthy life expectancy is science fiction, and show that it is instead scientific fact.
1. Nutrition and lifestyle
There’s plenty of evidence for the benefits of doing the boring stuff, such as eating right. A study of large groups of ordinary people show that keeping the weight off, not smoking, restricting alcohol to moderate amounts and eating at least five servings of fruit and vegetable a day can increase your life expectancy by seven to 14 years compared with someone who smokes, drinks too much and is overweight.
Cutting down calories even more – by about a third, so-called dietary restriction – improves health and extends life in mice and monkeys, as long as they eat the right stuff, though that’s a tough ask for people constantly exposed to food temptation. The less extreme versions of time-restricted or intermittent fasting – only eating during an eight-hour window each day, or fasting for two days every week – is thought to reduce the risk of middle-aged people getting age-related diseases.