How to live longer: Find time in your year to do this to extend your lifespan

Life expectancy graphs provide much cause for optimism in 2020, especially if you trace it back to when records first began. The steep rise in global life expectancy over the last few decades paints a particularly pleasing picture. The upward trend can in part be attributed to pioneering research in the field of science and medicine, which continues to add further weight to universally accepted truths, such as the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet to stave off the risk of developing life-threatening complications.


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Another truism that has been supported by rigorous research is that going on holiday is good for your health.

According to a 40-year study published in the The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, vacationing can extend your lifespan.

To support this hypothesis, researchers analysed data on 1,222 middle-aged male executives born in 1919 to 1934 and recruited into the Helsinki Businessmen Study in 1974 and 1975.

Participants had at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease (smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated triglycerides, glucose intolerance, overweight).

Participants were randomised into a control group (610 men) or an intervention group (612 men) for five years.

The intervention group received oral and written advice every four months to do aerobic physical activity, eat a healthy diet, achieve a healthy weight, and stop smoking.

When health advice alone was not effective, men in the intervention group also received drugs recommended at that time to lower blood pressure (beta-blockers and diuretics) and lipids (clofibrate and probucol).

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Men in the control group received usual healthcare and were not seen by the investigators. As previously reported, the risk of cardiovascular disease was reduced by 46 percent in the intervention group compared to the control group by the end of the trial. However, at the 15-year follow-up in 1989 there had been more deaths in the intervention group than in the control group. The surprising finding prompted the researchers to do some deeper digging, which revealed that shorter vacations were associated with excess deaths in the intervention group.


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In the intervention group, men who took three weeks or less annual vacation had a 37 percent greater chance of dying in 1974 to 2004 than those who took more than three weeks.

Accounting for the findings, Professor Timo Strandberg, of the University of Helsinki, Finland, said: “The harm caused by the intensive lifestyle regime was concentrated in a subgroup of men with shorter yearly vacation time.

“In our study, men with shorter vacations worked more and slept less than those who took longer vacations.”

He continued: “This stressful lifestyle may have overruled any benefit of the intervention. We think the intervention itself may also have had an adverse psychological effect on these men by adding stress to their lives.”

Professor Strandberg concluded: “Our results do not indicate that health education is harmful. Rather, they suggest that stress reduction is an essential part of programmes aimed at reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Lifestyle advice should be wisely combined with modern drug treatment to prevent cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals.”

How can stress cause cardiovascular complications?

According to the American Heart Association, stress may affect behaviours and factors that increase heart disease risk, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, physical inactivity and overeating.

“Some people may choose to drink too much alcohol or smoke cigarettes to ‘manage’ their chronic stress, however these habits can increase blood pressure and may damage artery walls,” it adds.

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