31 Mar 2018

Doug Wilson on ageing and longevity

From Saturday Morning, 10:10 am on 31 March 2018

If you want to live a long healthy life – exercise, socialise and eat a Mediterranean-style diet, says medical academic and author of Ageing for Beginners Doug Wilson.

Personal longevity is about 25 percent dictated by genes and about 75 percent dictated by "luck and lifestyle", says the London-based New Zealander who describes himself as "pretty fit and pretty well" at 80.

Medical technology, including early diagnosis of cancer, also plays a big role in the longer lives of today.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure – which led to the death of American president Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 – is a condition most people now control with a small daily pill, Wilson says.

Keep an eye on your health so you can take action as early as possible, says Wilson.

"Use the medical system to get early diagnosis of those things that you can have treated and therefore eliminate them from having a negative potential on the rest of your life."

The diet with the most consistently proven longevity benefits (which is also by far the most studied) is a Mediterranean-style diet low in meat with plenty of fish, fruit, vegetables and olive oil.

Eating this way can reduce the risk of premature death by heart attack or stroke by about 30 percent, compared to a standard Western diet or even a medically prescribed low-fat diet, Wilson says.

Many people as they get older have an inadequate ability to absorb important vitamins and minerals, so taking supplementary Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, folic acid, magnesium and zinc can be helpful, he says.

"[These supplements] have modest and difficult-to-measure advantages but it seems, to my mind, little downside."

Dr Doug Wilson

Dr Doug Wilson Photo: supplied

If you can, avoid the lonesome blues.

"If people are lonely and isolated, that has a negative impact on their life expectancy, if they're depressed it's the same.

"Being ignored and being isolated gives you a surefire risk of dying earlier."

And 'move it, move it' – the scientifically proven benefits of exercise are so robust Wilson calls it the "golden elixir" of longevity.

People who exercise 20-25 minutes a day or 45 minutes three times a week – no matter the activity – have a 30 percent lower chance of premature death by heart attack or stroke than those who do minimal exercise, he says.

Any walking can help keep depression at bay, but to qualify as 'moderate exercise' it needs to be brisk, Wilson says. "Get your heart going, get yourself short of breath, get up a sweat."

Any other tips?

"Keep your weight slim, keep your blood pressure normal, exercise, diet, social networks, keep your brain busy, have a reasonable sleep".

Kim Hill seems to be on the right track, Wilson says.

"Your diet is fine, I'm not sure what your smoking status is at the moment, get the exercise going, you have a fantastic social network, you're using your head better than almost anybody we come across when you listen to your interviews over the years … You've set yourself up for a very positive remaining healthy life."

Dr Doug Wilson is the Chief Medical Officer for Ferghana Partners Group. At the age of 70, Wilson, who is dyslexic, began a new career as an author. Before Ageing for Beginners he wrote nine books for children.