Good health isn’t just about the here and now, and while you can’t undo the effects of the years that have already gone by, you can take steps to safeguard your wellbeing in order to improve your life expectancy.
In stark contrast to countries like Japan, Sweden and Iceland, which have a stellar longevity picture, the UK has one of the worst life expectancies among rich nations. Chronic disease such as cardiovascular problems and diabetes are still on the rise, while once overlooked conditions like stress and other mental health issues continue to impact lifespan for the worse.
If you want to outlive the odds, take your cue from the countries in-the-know.
Let your mind wander
You might feel like you’re at a loose end when you have gaps in your daily schedule, but the truth is, doing nothing is good for you. The Dutch know only too well the merits of taking time out to stay stress-free.
"In the Netherlands, the art of Niksen means ‘‘to do nothing.’’ We live in such a busy society, but Niksen is an interesting way to help combat our increasingly demanding and often stressful lifestyles," explains Ciana Glynn, a holistic health coach and founder of The Wellness Primer.
Try adding a few minutes of daydreaming time into your daily routine. Feel the stress melt away as you stare out of a window, or lie down with your eyes closed and allow your mind to get lost in thought.
Have a mindful coffee break
Remember the days when you didn’t have to jump onto a Zoom call with your colleagues? Yes, we’ve gained so much from flexible working, but we’ve also partially lost tangible connections with our peers.
The Swedes haven’t let the era of digitalisation get in the way of fostering meaningful connections, and it’s one of the everyday aspects that’s thought to contribute to living to a ripe old age. The ritual of Fika, (a pause in the rush of the day to have a coffee and cake break) has long formed part of their routine.
"Believe it or not, there is a strong importance of social connections to happier relationships, mind health and longevity, and Fika is a simple yet meaningful way to create these connections," believes Glynn.
While working from home might cut out pleasantries by the water cooler, you can still allocate time within your working day to practice Fika. Fix five-minutes in your schedule where you disengage with work tasks and grab a hot drink and snack before hopping on a virtual call with a colleague. "You’ll find it builds rapports and a positive work environment, which can positively impact your health and contribute to a longer lifespan," Glynn points out.
There is a strong importance of social connections to happier relationships, mind health and longevity.
Reignite your mojo
Whether in your personal or professional life, cultivating a passion is synonymous with having purpose. Science points to the benefits, with one study showing that having a strong sense of purpose helped to lowered the risk of death by over 15.2 per cent.
The Japanese, (who boast the highest concentration of centenarians in the world on the island of Okinawa), are big advocates of finding fulfilment through the concept of Ikigai.
"Iki means life, and gai means value or worth," explains Glynn. "In other words, it is your reason for being or what brings you joy and inspires you to get out of bed in the morning," she adds.
Purpose means different things to different people, so the first step is to pinpoint what gives you satisfaction. Maybe you thrive on honing a new skill, volunteering for a cause that resonates with your personal values, or doing a hobby just for fun?
"Think about what you love, what you’re good at and your personal mission. Try to find balance and alignment among these factors for overall wellbeing and longevity," she adds.
Take a cold dip
Since the hype of Wim Hof a few years back, here’s been so much noise around the benefits of cold water therapy, but submerging into sub-zero temperatures is nothing new for Icelanders who have long sworn by icy water immersion to safeguard their longevity.
Reduced inflammation, improved circulation and a surge of endorphins are just a few of the benefits you can enjoy through cold water exposure.
"If you don’t live near the sea, there are other ways to obtain some of these health benefits, from cold water immersion such as cold ice baths, or simply starting your morning with a courageous cold shower," recommends Glynn.
To ease yourself in, begun by ending your shower with 10-15 seconds of cold water exposure, and build up very slowly to one or two minutes.
Eat the Ayurvedic way
You know the drill: eat a rainbow, cut out junk food — by now most of us know the basics of healthy eating, but there are sneaky ways to jumpstart your diet for a disease-free life.
In Ayurveda, an ancient Indian holistic healing system that focuses on living according to your dosha (the mind-body type), the addition of spices is a must help to maintain proper functioning of your body’s systems.
This means along with eating colourful fruit and veg that suit your personal dosha, throwing in spices is a crucial way to pimp up everyday meals.
"Simple additions of spices not only make your food taste nicer, but also contain powerful healing qualities. For example, turmeric has 300 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E, garlic has anti inflammatory properties, and cinnamon stabilises blood sugar," says Glynn.