TOM UTLEY: You can keep your sensible bedtimes. Life is for living

TOM UTLEY: You can keep your diet of lentils, Reishi mushrooms and sensible bedtimes. Life is for living

Hardly a day goes by without the proclaimed discovery of yet another simple means of prolonging our lives — and this week has proved no exception.

Indeed, it has yielded a more than usually rich crop of tips for postponing the Grim Reaper’s visit, which surely awaits us all.

Monday brought news, first reported in the British Medical Journal, that taking a hot bath every day could help us live longer since it lowers our risk of heart disease by as much as 28 per cent. 

Apparently, it could also make us 26 per cent less likely to suffer a stroke than if we bathed only once or twice a week.

On Tuesday came the finding, by various academic authorities, that one way to increase our chances of a long life is to get regular sleep of seven hours a night. 

More than eight, or less than seven, and we will be more likely to suffer dementia and die before our time. Or so these studies claim.

Monday brought news, first reported in the British Medical Journal, that taking a hot bath every day could help us live longer since it lowers our risk of heart disease by as much as 28 per cent, writes TOM UTLEY 

On Wednesday we were told, by Queen Mary University of London and Semmelweis University of Budapest, Hungary, that drinking three cups of coffee a day will give us a 17 per cent lower risk of dying of heart disease and make us 21 per cent less likely to die of stroke.

Beware

But beware. Drinking more than three cups a day, the researchers warn, may put us at greater risk of premature death than avoiding coffee altogether.

Says Dr Pal Maurovich-Horvat: ‘We found that regular, light to moderate coffee consumption can slow down age-related cardiac changes.’

According to the Express — perhaps not the most reliable of sources — the study also found that, overall, those who drink three cups a day are ’12 per cent less likely to die’.

This seems a strange claim to me, since I’ve always thought that every one of us is 100 per cent likely to die. But what do I know?

The important fact to grasp, say the study’s findings in the Journal of Preventive Cardiology, is that instant coffee doesn’t work the same magic. Only the real stuff will do.

On Wednesday we were told, by Queen Mary University of London and Semmelweis University of Budapest, Hungary, that drinking three cups of coffee a day will give us a 17 per cent lower risk of dying of heart disease and make us 21 per cent less likely to die of stroke 

Wizened old cynic that I am, I suspected at first that this research might have been funded by one of the big coffee shop chains — though I’m not sure that ‘real coffee’ is quite the right description for the warm dishwater that most of them serve up. 

I have to confess, however, that I’ve found no evidence to support my suspicion.

Anyway, by Thursday the focus had switched to Reishi mushrooms (evil-looking specimens, if you ask me) which were reported by the American government’s National Library of Medicine to boost the immune system and thereby promote longevity.

Other research, we are told, has discovered that these fungi not only seek out and destroy cancer cells but also prevent the development of new fat cells in people who are obese.

Meanwhile, experiments on mice have found that eating Reishi mushrooms extends their life by between nine and 20 per cent — the equivalent of between seven and almost 16 years in human terms.

So there you have it. If you have a daily hot bath, sleep seven hours a night, drink three cups of real coffee a day, give up smoking and excessive drinking and stuff yourself with Reishi mushrooms, perhaps you’ll live to be 150. Just don’t bank on it, if you want my advice.

But the study of longevity that has interested me most this week, because it sounds the most authoritative and convincing, is the one produced on Wednesday by the University of Bergen, in Norway. 

Basing their findings on extensive research by the Global Burden of Disease Study, scientists there have built a model predicting how long each of us is likely to live according to our choice of diet.

Remarkable

Among their findings is that those who switch at the age of 20 from typical Western fare to healthier foods will increase their life expectancy by as much as ten years.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the biggest gains are predicted for people of both sexes who eat less red and processed meat and more whole grains, nuts and legumes such as beans, peas and lentils.

More remarkable, I thought, was the study’s finding that it’s never too late to reap the benefits of an improved diet.

Indeed, women who wait until they are 60 to switch to healthier foods were found to add as much as eight years to their life expectancy. 

More striking still was the equivalent figure for 60-year-old men, who stood to gain an extra 8.8 years of life.

Experiments on mice have found that eating Reishi mushrooms extends their life by between nine and 20 per cent — the equivalent of between seven and almost 16 years in human terms 

What’s more, even those who delay a change of diet until they are 80 — men and women alike — are apparently likely to earn themselves an extra 3.4 years on this Earth, compared with contemporaries who stick to bangers and Big Macs.

Well, all I can say is good luck to them. Indeed, if you’re one of those who believe it’s worth making any sacrifice for the sake of living longer, then the scientists of the University of Bergen have pointed the way.

But speaking for myself, I’m with the late, great Kingsley Amis when he observed (and forgive me if I’ve quoted this before): ‘No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home in Weston-super-Mare.’

Nor could I agree more with the remark made by an 80-year-old friend of a friend, after he had admitted on an NHS form that he drank 40 units of alcohol a week. 

When a sweet-natured nurse offered to give him tips on how to mend his ways, for the sake of a longer life, he pointed at the form and said simply: ‘Have you looked at my date of birth?’

Indeed, I’ve long been slightly baffled by the modern obsession with prolonging our lives, which has kept so many academics busy in their quest for new ways of postponing the end. 

It’s as if people think the point of our earthly existence is simply to make it last as long as possible.

Pleasures

Certainly, this point of view made sense in the past, when so many believed that eternal damnation, fire and brimstone awaited unrepentant sinners in the hereafter. No wonder they thought that the longer they could put off the evil day of reckoning, the better.

But in these Godless times, when fewer and fewer believe in Hell, why are so many still terrified of the inevitable end — so much so, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, that some have seemed happier to spend the rest of their existence under house arrest, rather than risk shortening their time on Earth by enjoying the pleasures of freedom?

Yes, of course I understand the fear of dying a painful death. It’s only natural, too, that we should consider those we leave behind, who will grieve when loved ones die.

But if death is really a state of nothingness, as so many appear to believe — a state in which we will know nothing, remember nothing and feel nothing —then what is there to fear about it for ourselves? 

And why give up anything we enjoy about life, just for the sake of another few years of it?

As for myself, I reserve the right to change my mind when I’m nearer the end. But for the moment at least, I intend to carry on enjoying cigarettes, instant coffee, late nights, crowded pubs, Cumberland sausages and rare steak, washed down with lashings of wine.

You can keep your lentils, Reishi mushrooms, sensible bedtimes, face masks, social distancing and three cups of coffee a day. I reckon that life is for living.

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