Since time began we have coveted youth. But while we can do nothing about advancing years, most medical experts believe that we can help prolong our lives by following a healthy lifestyle.
Dr Eva Orsmond is no stranger to this theory and has long encouraged a wholesome diet coupled with regular exercise as a means of staying in shape.
In her new two-part TV series, How to Live Better for Longer, she investigates how we age and how the speed of the ageing process is determined by our lifestyle.
The Finish-born medic believes in walking the talk. “I always try to maintain a healthy weight and exercise as much as I can, this is not always easy to do but I still do my best to fit exercise into my week,” she says.
For those of us who lack her steely discipline, there is no need to despair.
“There is exciting new evidence showing you can make changes which can prolong healthy life expectancy within a very short amount of time, no matter how old you are.
“Fifty percent of how we age is genetic, But even then we have the power to change that genetic code through our lifestyle.”
She points to recent studies which show how genes can be turned on or off throughout our life cycle depending on how we live our lives.
“Whether or not you smoke or eat a lot of processed foods are just two factors which can have a direct effect on our health and can alter our genetics.
“Genes are also passed on to the next generation from both parents so you see how important nutrition is before, during and after pregnancy for mother and father. Sometimes people do not accept their own responsibilities and are too willing to assume that illness runs in the family but we all have the power to be the best version of ourselves we can be but also to help future generations.”
It helps that we have a lot more information at our fingertips and a much greater variety of foods available. “This is fantastic as we can widen our tastes and make sure we get all the nutrients we need at any time of the year. However, we also have greater access to convenience foods, which is not such a good thing. But we all have the ability to make the right choices.”
Everybody wants to age gracefully, look younger and keep in good health so they can enjoy their older years, she says.
“Perhaps previous generations were more accepting of the ageing process as the knowledge and information we now have was not available to them. But I believe that everybody has the power to stay fit and healthy as they age and that age should not be a barrier for you to do what you want to do.”
In the new series, Orsmond imparts some of her wisdom to willing participants and also meets some inspirational people.
“This was the most enjoyable documentary I have ever done,” she says. “I had a great time meeting all of these amazing and inspirational people. I met one woman who has run over 600 marathons.
“I also met a woman who is 70 years old and still goes to the gym every day. She has a better figure now that she had when she was in her early 50s when she really got interested and motivated in regular weight training and can still do everything now that she could do then. She told me she has endless energy. We can’t do anything about our chronological age — we just have to accept it. But everyone ages differently biologically and we can influence it through our diet, sleeping patterns, stress levels and lifestyle which all determine how quickly our cells age.
Professor of physiology at the University of Limerick Alan Donnelly, also features in the upcoming series. He believes that reversing a sedentary lifestyle can make a huge difference to health and lifestyle.
“Modern life has changed how people behave as in the past people would have walked or cycled to work but these days most will drive to work and then sit at a computer all day before going home and sitting in front of the TV or a laptop for hours,” he says.
“This is a big risk factor as a life of inactivity carries the same risk as smoking. But we can get around this sedentary behaviour by becoming more active — perhaps commuting actively to work (on foot or by bicycle) and once there take active walking breaks rather than sitting stationary for eight or nine hours.
“Thirty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise daily is recommended but any activity is good and will reduce the risk of developing cancer or cardiovascular disease as an older adult.”
How to Live Better for Longer airs on RTÉ One at 9.35pm on Monday, May 13 and 20