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animals.24 Here’s another old possibility:
in mice, recent research has indicated
that injecting plasma from young mice
into old mice can reverse the physical
and cognitive effects of ageing in the
This effect is thought to be due
to high levels of a specific growth factor
(GDF11) in young blood, in both humans
It could be that we have to rely on a
balanced diet and exercise to beat off the
ravages of ageing. While she did enjoy
eating a fried egg sandwich every day,
Florence Baldwin was also very active.
Her workplace was located atop a steep
hill, and she would walk to and from
work, including at lunchtime.
The same research team that examined
the Okinawans published the results of
a follow-up for up to 40 years of almost
6,000 Japanese American middle-aged
Forty-two percent survived to
85 years and 11% met the criteria for
exceptional survival to 85 (i.e. without
incidence of six major chronic diseases
and without physical and cognitive
These data suggest that avoidance of
certain risk factors in midlife is associated
with the probability of a long and healthy
life among men. High grip strength and
avoidance of overweight, hyperglycemia,
hypertension, smoking, and excessive
alcohol consumption were associated with
both overall and exceptional survival.
A study published recently in the British
Medical Journal indicated that three simple
measures of physical capability in middle
age could predict subsequent mortality
The researchers examined grip
strength, chair rise time, and standing
balance time, and their association with
all-cause mortality from 1999 to 2012 in a
prospective cohort study, which included
1,355 men and 1,411 women.
Physical capability had been assessed at
age 53 years by a trained nurse during
home visits. They also tested a composite
measure of the three tasks for association
Participants were classified into five
groups according to performance on the
three measures. Those who were unable
to perform the three measures or who
were in the lowest-performing group had
six-fold higher mortality rates compared
with those in the highest-performing
group. The associations remained
after adjustment for body mass index,
socioeconomic status, lifestyle factors,
and health status.
Importantly, there is evidence indicating
that large increases in physical activity
are not needed to reduce disability and
improve decreased life expectancy.
What can we conclude from all this?
We may not be able to prevent the effects
of ageing, but we can certainly slow
the deterioration and effects of ageing.
There is strong evidence for a number
of strategies to slow ageing, or at least
improve longevity (Figure 2). These centre
on maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
In the words of Professor Tom Marwick,
leading international cardiologist and
Director of the Menzies Research Institute
at the University of Tasmania32
1. Be physically active, at least 30 minutes
of exercise a day – enough to raise a
sweat, not dawdling along with the
dog waiting by the lamp post.
2. Avoid processed foods and watch your
salt intake. Control animal fat intake
and reduce red meat. Eat lots of fresh
fruit and vegetables. Unprocessed
foods are good. Eat fish once or twice
a week. The Mediterranean diet has
the strongest evidence for being
3. Don’t smoke.
4. Have regular screening, such as
mammograms, Pap smears, bowel
screens. Every adult should know their
5. Immunise. Youngsters should be
vaccinated and the elderly should get
6. Low doses of alcohol. Any alcohol
has a detrimental effect on the
brain but a moderate amount has
7. Mental health. Suicide is the most
common cause of death for the young
to middle-aged. It costs more lives than
car accidents. Society needs to support
and engage those at risk and raise
awareness of depression.
8. Avoid sitting. Sedentary behaviour is a
risk even if you are active.
9. Avoid toxins. Exercise is fabulous but not
on a main road with lots of diesel fumes
– hydrocarbons are not good for you.
10. Road safety. Drive carefully.
Figure 2. The estimated effects of various interventions on human life expectancy8
References loacted on page 77.
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