Healthy habits for a longer life

Modern humans are living longer than ever before, but our increasingly hectic and stressful lifestyles are taking a serious toll on our health. Early deaths from heart disease, obesity, smoking and drinking are all on the rise, so if you want to stay healthier and live longer, you might want to change your habits.

Healthy habits

Pic: Getty

Eat well
Topping your list of healthy habits should be a well-balanced diet. Unhealthy processed foods, saturated fats and too much salt and sugar all contribute to heart disease, obesity and diabetes, three of Britain's biggest killers.

There's no need to cut out whole food groups - it's all about getting the balance right. Increase your intake of fruit and vegetables, opt for whole grains, and cut down on saturated fats such as processed meats, hard cheeses, cream and sugary treats, that increase your bad cholesterol. Instead go for regular servings of omega-3-rich oily fish, and nuts and seeds for much healthier unsaturated fats. With the right balance, you're not only protecting your heart directly, you are also far less likely to become overweight, which puts further pressure on your health.

Exercise regularly
The World Health Organisation now ranks physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer in the world behind obesity, high blood pressure, tobacco and high blood glucose.

If you're one of the quarter of Brits who walk for less than nine minutes a day (which includes walking to and from the car and around the house) it's time to get active.

The NHS suggests we get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week, which could be something as simple as brisk walking - improving cardiovascular fitness, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. They key is finding a fitness regime that suits you, whether that's low-impact swimming, stress-relieving yoga or Pilates, or heart-pumping running or team sports. Or buy a pedometer and aim to walk 10,000 steps a day - the recommended number for good health.

Some things in moderation
Research has suggested that one or two units of alcohol a day may help to reduce the risk of heart disease, but the truth is that most of us a boozing to a level well beyond what's healthy. In fact, diseases associated with excessive alcohol consumption, such as liver disease, mouth and throat cancer, are now the 12th-highest cause of death and ill health in Western Europe.

While drinking in moderation won't do you too much harm, the cigarettes simply have to go. One in six cases of heart disease - the UK's biggest killer - can be attributed to smoking, and according to the NHS, it's responsible for roughly 90 per cent of lung cancer cases. Only half of those who smoke long-term live past the age of 70, but it is never too late to quit. Last year, a team of German researchers discovered that even over-60s who gave up prolonged their life, so perhaps it's time to stub out that cigarette.

Relieve stress
Too much stress in your life can not only lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, it can affect your body too. It may mean you have trouble sleeping, lose your appetite or find yourself drinking too much, all of which can lead to health problems. What's more, high stress levels over long periods of time means the level of cortisol (the stress hormone) is also elevated, which can, in time, cause high blood pressure.

There is, however, plenty you can do to help yourself. Physical activity helps to clear the mind and release feel-good endorphins, while simple breathing exercises can help take the pressure off whenever you feel your stress levels rising. It is also essential to take some time out during the day, whether that's from work or from busy family life. Where you are struggling with stress or find depression taking over your life, try talking to family or friends, or visit your GP, who may be able to refer you to a support group or talking therapy.

Keep active
They say no man is an island, and maintaining an active social life can make a significant difference to your overall health. Getting out and about with a variety of social activities helps to reduce stress and illness, and has been found to be particularly beneficial to those in old age. Keeping the brain active is another key factor in maintaining good mental health, so if you've recently retired, take the opportunity to take up a new or forgotten hobby, and give yourself a fresh challenge.

What are your top tips for living a long and healthy life? Leave your comments below...