DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: What to eat if you want to live to 100

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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In a few weeks I will be 67 years old, more than two-thirds of my way to my goal of reaching 100, and, hopefully, getting a birthday card from the monarch. But how likely is it that I — or any of us — will reach this milestone?

Although average life expectancy in the UK has soared over the last century — up from just 46 in 1900 to an average of 81 now (79 for men; 83 for women) — it has recently flat-lined and begun to decline. That’s the average: many of us can expect to do better than that — and, of course, many will do far worse.

An obvious step is to look at your parents: my father died of heart failure at the age of 74, while my grandfather died of the same condition when he was just 66. My mother on the other hand, who is about to celebrate her 94th birthday, is still going strong.

In fact, as I discovered recently while making my TV series, Secrets Of The Superagers, what determines your longevity is a mixture of genes and lifestyle — but your genes become more important the older you get.

As part of my research I went to Okinawa, an island off the coast of Japan. It’s been dubbed ‘the land of the immortals’ because it has the highest proportion of centenarians anywhere in the world.

Dr Max Mosley is looking forward to his birthday

I met Craig Wilcox, a professor of public health and gerontology at Okinawa International University, who runs a research programme that’s examined more than 1,000 centenarians in the region. He told me twin studies have shown that whether or not you reach the age of 80 in good shape, is 75 per cent down to lifestyle and 25 per cent to genes.

But if you’re hoping to reach 100, then it’s genes that really matter — and one gene in particular, FoxO3, which he described as ‘the anti-ageing gene’.

We all have this gene, but there is a special longevity version, which seems to be particularly beneficial: if you inherit one copy from a parent, it doubles your chance of hitting 100, while if you inherit two copies (one from each parent), it triples your chances.

Professor Wilcox has been tested and found he has one copy. I’ve also been tested. I have none. Which is a bit of a blow. (Tests for such genes are available privately.) Professor Wilcox thinks the variant mainly works by reducing chronic inflammation, which is behind many conditions of ageing, including heart disease and dementia.

He tried to cheer me up by explaining that even if you inherit just the ordinary FoxO3 genes, there are ways to activate them so they behave more like the protective version. These include intermittent fasting (such as with my 5:2 diet), regular exercise, stress reduction — and more surprisingly, consuming plenty of red and purple foods, such as reddish-purple sweet potatoes and shrimp and salmon.

These brightly coloured foods contain powerful antioxidants that help protect us against heart disease and stroke.

Numerous animal studies have shown that calorie restriction, if done while eating a nutrient-rich diet, is linked to a longer life, and recent research has suggested this is also true of humans. The idea that it might work, at least in part, by activating your FoxO3 genes is relatively new, but this has recently been shown in animal studies.

It could also explain why Okinawa has so many centenarians: when the generation of Okinawans who are now in their 90s and 100s were growing up after World War II, they lived on a very low-calorie diet (under 1,700 calories a day), but one packed with vegetables, (such as sweet potatoes) and seafood, with very little meat or rice, which doesn’t grow readily there.

Professor Wilcox thinks going on a low-calorie diet that’s rich in vegetables and foods containing antioxidants helps activate genes such as FoxO3 that play a part in healthy ageing.

Indeed, a study by the University of Hawaii in 2017 showed that giving mice a supplement of astaxanthin (an antioxidant found in reddish foods such as salmon) boosted activation of the FoxO3 gene by 90 per cent.

Sadly, younger Okinawans have largely given up the traditional Okinawan diet in favour of a more Western-style one, and as a result are not living anything like as long as their parents. Average life expectancy on the island is now 83, down from 86 in the 1980s — and lower than the typical Japanese (which is 85).

One final lesson I learnt from the Okinawans was the value of something they call Moai, a gathering of friends who meet regularly to gossip or share advice and financial assistance as needed. These groups often start in childhood and can last a lifetime. Sometimes they just form to help support a friend who is going through a hard time.

I went to a Moai that had been created to support an elderly cardiologist whose wife had died. Once a week his friends would gather at his house to sing karaoke (which he loved), eat, dance and chat. It was a lovely atmosphere and you could see how much it meant to them all.

Research has shown that the richness of our social connections is probably the most important factor when it comes to leading a long and healthy life. Worth bearing in mind, if you’re hoping to get that birthday card from royalty.

Around 75 per cent of NHS patients turn down joining any weight-loss programme, even if it’s free.

Researchers at Oxford University have found out why — a survey of 4,000 patients revealed people tend to want a programme based on real food rather than meal replacement shakes; they don’t like groups; and would much rather do the programme online. Plus, they want something that offers significant weight loss (10-15kg), rather than more modest goals (2-3kg).

Based on these findings, the researchers said that if the NHS were to offer more tailored programmes, the numbers taking part could nearly double.

Whether you think lockdowns were essential or not, there’s no doubt that they have had a long-term impact, particularly on children’s mental wellbeing. But I was heartened to see that they may have had an unexpected benefit — reduced allergies. That’s the conclusion of a recent study of 351 babies by University College Cork, which showed that those born during the pandemic were given far fewer antibiotics than a matched group born before Covid.

This led to a healthier microbiome, and in turn, a lower incidence of allergic diseases, particularly in food allergies.

Deepen voice like Thatcher to sound more commanding

If your voice is more the high-pitched and squeaky type, you might want to emulate former PM Margaret Thatcher, who famously changed the way she spoke: becoming slower and more deliberate, and lowering the pitch, in order, it’s said, to be taken more seriously.

And now a study has shown speaking in a deeper voice really does make you appear more commanding. Researchers at Penn State University in the U.S. recorded two men and two women saying the same sentence, then edited the recordings to produce a higher-pitched and a lower-pitched version of each voice. They then asked more than 3,000 people across 22 countries to listen to these voices.

Results showed that both men and women went for the lower-pitched voices when asked ‘who would you prefer to be in a long-term relationship, such as marriage, with’, and regarded a lower-pitched voice as being ‘more formidable’.

They also thought women with higher-pitched voices sounded more flirtatious and men found them ‘more attractive for a short-term relationship’. If you want to deepen your voice, stand upright, with a straight back and chin raised — this helps open up your diaphragm, allowing you to exercise better vocal control.

And if you’re about to make a speech, or ask for a pay rise, try deep belly breathing first: this will keep you calm and mean you speak in a deeper, more authoritative voice (again, by freeing up your diaphragm).

Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach: your hand should rise as you breathe in slowly. Or do what Margaret Thatcher did: hire a voice coach.

Whether you think lockdowns were essential or not, there’s no doubt that they have had a long-term impact, particularly on children’s mental wellbeing. 

But I was heartened to see that they may have had an unexpected benefit — reduced allergies. That’s the conclusion of a recent study of 351 babies by University College Cork, which showed that those born during the pandemic were given far fewer antibiotics than a matched group born before Covid.

This led to a healthier microbiome, and in turn, a lower incidence of allergic diseases, particularly in food allergies.

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