Life expectancy continues to increase

Harry Patch lived to 111 years old

A recent paper by Professor David Leon, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in the International Journal of Epidemiology reports that Western Europeans are living longer than ever before despite concerns about obesity and health problems.  Average life expectancy in Western Europe is now six to eight years higher than in the 1970s.

The report used mortality data from the WHO Health for All Database and the Human Mortality Database, and its findings are likely to be reliable.

Data from 2007 indicate that average life expectancy for the UK was 80 years (for males 77.9 and women, 82), compared with 78 in the US.

The report also discusses life expectancy in Eastern Europe.  Between 1970 and the end of the 1980s, life expectancy in eastern European countries stagnated or declined, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, life expectancy started to rapidly rise in the countries of the CEE (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia).  This rise is still continuing but on a “parallel trajectory to Western Europe” that makes it difficult to close the gap between east and west.

Russia and the Baltic states have seen a decline in life expectancy that is only recently being reversed.  Russia in particular has had some dramatic fluctuations in recent years – its life expectancy in 2008 was just 68 years (men 61.8 and women 74.2) – the same age as 40 years previously.  Prior to this, Russia also saw a sharp decline in life expectancy between 1990 and 1994, when male life expectancy fell by six years to a low of 57 years.

The report discusses the possible causes of the trends in different countries.

The decline in cardiovascular disease is seen as an important contributor to the rise in life expectancy in Western Europe. According to the author,

Deaths from cardiovascular disease in the UK have seen some of the largest and most rapid falls of any Western European country, partly due to improvements in treatment as well as reductions in smoking and other risk factors.

The fact that US life expectancy lags behind the UK, he says, underlines that

GDP and health care expenditure per capita are not good predictors of population health within high income countries.

The rises in life expectancy seen in central Europe since the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 reportedly illustrate that mortality can fluctuate rapidly in response to social, political and economic change.

The study’s author believes that the dramatic fluctuations in life expectancy in Russia are associated with the “stress and chaos” after the collapse of communism, as well as high rates of alcoholism. The recent upward trend in life expectancy in Russia and the Baltic states is probably due to recent reductions in alcohol-related deaths, rather than overall health improvements.

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Secrets of a long and healthy life

Can we discover the fountain of youth?  Some answers lie with the healthiest people on earth – the elders of Okinawa in Japan.

Okinawa has a higher proportion of centenarians than anywhere on the planet  – more than four times that of the UK.  Not only this, but they remain healthy and active into advanced old age.  Compared with people of the same age in the UK, Okinawan elders have an 80 per cent lower risk of heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer, a 50 per cent lower risk of other cancers, including colon, ovarian and lymphoma, a 50 per cent lower rate of hip fracture, and a 30 to 40 per cent lower incidence of dementia.

So what are their secrets?

Secret #1 is maintain a positive, optimistic attitude.  Okinawans believe that everything in life works itself out in the long run.  With this attitude, there is no need to worry.  They intentionally live a calm, peaceful life with little stress.  When they work, it is at their own pace, rather than putting pressure on themselves to get things done in a hurry.  Experts believe this relaxed way of being is vital for health.

Secret #2 is cultivate strong relationships.  Okinawans often meet with friends and family just to chat, laugh or offer support to one another.  Endless studies have shown that people are healthier when they have good relationships and an active, positive social life.

Secret #3 is eat a very healthy diet.  It is considered especially important that the traditional Okinawa diet is both simple and wholesome.  It consists mainly of plant food – whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds – that are high in vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, and fish that is rich in protein and omega-3 oils. They also eat less food than the average in countries such as the UK and USA and have a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu, which means eat until 80 per cent full.  Eating a natural unprocessed diet, low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, greatly reduces their risk of health problems related to overweight and obesity.

Secret # 4 is lead an active life. Most Okinawans are physically active. They walk everywhere, work in their gardens, dance and practice traditional martial arts like tai chi.

Secret # 5 is refrain from bad habits. There are very few older Okinawans who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol

 

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Cook your way to a healthier life

Ancient wisdom and modern science teach us that the quality of the food we eat is intrinsically linked with our level of health and well being.

 

The development of agriculture 10,000 years ago and the radical changes in the production and processing of food  which have occurred in the last 200 years, have led to our diet moving further and further away from the natural foods which sustained our earliest ancestors 2.5 million years ago.  From an evolutionary perspective, these changes have taken place too rapidly for the human genome to adjust.  Biochemically and physiologically, we are virtually identical to the hunter-gatherers who roamed the earth 20,000 years ago[i],[ii].

 

ecuador-family

 

There is growing scientific evidence that the evolutionary collision of our ancient genome with the nutritional qualities of recently introduced foods may underlie many of the chronic diseases of Western civilization, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer[iii], as well as problems such as depression, mood swings, PMS, hot flushes, chronic fatigue, inability to cope with stress, allergies and susceptibility to illness and infection.

 

In particular, food staples and food-processing procedures introduced during the Neolithic and Industrial Periods have fundamentally altered seven crucial nutritional characteristics of the ancestral hominin diets of the Paleolithic era: 1) glycaemic load (or the impact of food on blood glucose levels), 2) fatty acid composition (the balance between good fats and bad fats), 3) macronutrient composition (the proportion of energy coming from carbohydrates, proteins and fats), 4) micronutrient density (the amount of vitamins and minerals per calorie), 5) acid-base balance, 6) sodium-potassium ratio, and 7) fibre content.

 

north-carolina-family

 

Today, a few societies in the world are noted for their healthy longevity, including Okinawans in Japan, Hunzans in Pakistan and Vilcabambans in Ecuador[iv].  Scientific studies have shown that these people consume a predominantly plant-based diet high in whole grains, locally grown vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts and seeds, with small amounts of animal foods, sea vegetables, natural sweeteners and condiments.  In other words, natural, unprocessed foods similar to those consumed by the earliest human beings.

 

We too can be full of energy, in excellent physical health and with minds as sharp as razors into advanced old age if we move away from eating refined, processed foods and return to a more natural diet.

 

You can learn how to cook with these natural ingredients at Cooking For Health courses held throughout the year in Somerset, UK.   The classes cover the basics of healthy eating and focus on different aspects of the link between nutrition and optimum health and well being.  Topics include Managing Your Weight Naturally, Food and Emotions, Balancing Your Hormones, Beating Stress and Fatigue and Boosting Your Immune System.

 

The classes not only include cooking healthy and appetising recipes, but also slowly unfold a fascinating and comprehensive study of the healing power of food.

 

Whether you are young or old, male or female, vegan, vegetarian or omnivorous, a novice or an experienced cook, if you are seeking a natural approach to health and well being, you will find these classes valuable, interesting and potentially life-changing.


[i] Cohen MN (1989): Health and the Rise of Civilization. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press

[ii] Eaton, SB; Eaton SB III and Konner, MJ (1997).  Paleolithic nutrition revisited: A twelve-year retrospective on its nature and implications.  European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1997) 51, 207-216

[iii] Cordain L.; Eaton,SB; Sebastian A.; Mann,N.; Lindeberg,S; Watkins,B.A.; O’Keefe,JH; Brand-Miller, J. (2005).  Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2005), 81, 341–54.

[iv] Robbins, J. (2007).  Healthy at 100.  Ballantine Books.