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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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June 2018 (Vol. 3 Issue 4)

Talk to a stranger and live longer
About the author: 
Bryan Hubbard

Talk to a stranger and live longer image

It's a little like trying to understand the workings of a TV set by watching the programmes, but. . .researchers have tracked the lives of the over-90s and concluded that drinking two glasses of red wine a day, exercising for 15 minutes and going out and talking to strangers can all contribute to longevity.

Spending two hours a day on a hobby and drinking two cups of coffee, as well as keeping your weight down, also help you reach a ripe old age.

Introducing as many of these habits into your life will increase your chances of living well into your 90s, says Dr Claudia Kawas from the University of California at Irvine, who has spent the past 15 years studying the lives of the 'super-agers'.

Getting out and about and talking to strangers is a better way to engage your brain than doing crossword puzzles, as other researchers have recommended.

"The benefit is using your brain. People think using your brain is solving a puzzle, but when you are just getting out and interacting with people, you are using your brain a lot," she told the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting at Austin, Texas.

The most effective way to improve your chances of a long life was to indulge in a hobby for two hours a day, which reduced the chances of an early death by 21 per cent. Next best was drinking two glasses of wine a day, which lowered the risk 18 per cent, then 15 minutes of daily exercise (11 per cent), followed by consuming two cups of coffee a day (10 per cent), and not getting over-weight (3 per cent).

In a separate study presented to the AAAS, researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago have noted that the 31 over-80s they have been monitoring had memories that were just as good as others who were 30 years younger.

One physical explanation could be that the super-agers had brains that didn't seem to age. Their cerebral cortex hadn't thinned, as usually happens as we get older, and they had five times more neurons, known as Von Economo neurons, that boost social behaviour.

Dr Emily Rogalski said that a positive attitude and resilience in the face of hardship were both common to the group they studied. Perhaps, she speculated, there is more than one path to longevity: for some it could be a genetic advantage, such as having more Von Economo neurons, but for others it could be eating a healthy diet and exercising. Others, still, could be living longer by having a positive and optimistic outlook.


References

(Source: Proceedings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting at Austin, Texas, February 18, 2018)

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