No cake, no wine, more kale … health advice to make you sick
To avoid a grisly early death, apparently I need to join the plant and fitness brigade - yawn
I’ve always been fascinated by people who seem totally unmoved by the things I like most: lounging about, often in the sun, scoffing cakes and ale, necking (good) wine, heavily snacking while binge-watching romantic comedies, excess in general, not dieting, and most certainly not running marathons or getting up at 5am for British Military Fitness training before work.
We all want to live forever and be happy and, for the rising numbers of sugar-and-drink-shunning, sun-avoiding fitness nuts among us, doing so should be a breeze.
Their efforts may already be paying off: funeral provider Dignity warned last week that its profits could fall short, owing to “a significantly lower-than-expected number of deaths” in the first quarter of 2019.
For many of us, though, managing the relationship between the desire to live for a long time, and the desire to live in the moment – to have that G&T (or two) before dinner, munch sweets on journeys or indulge in popcorn and beer at the cinema – is a fulltime, high-stress job.
Nor can we expect any let-up on the “live virtuously or die” front either. As a fresh raft of research shows, the healthy life is absolutely also the boring and puritanical life. You can have your cake and eat it – just don’t expect to live very long.
The biggest study to date of women, diet and breast cancer, out last week, shows that women over the age of 50 can cut their “risk of dying” from breast cancer by a fifth by eating less tasty stuff, like meat and cheese, and consuming more low-fat foods, like fruit. Hurrah.
It’s hard to avoid accompanying every piece of non-pristine food and drink that passes our lips now with a cascade of self-recrimination, regret and fear.
The list of things we have to do to achieve the dream of healthy old age is already daunting. We must not be fat. We must not sit too much because sitting kills (heart attacks, diabetes, cancer). We must get our heart rates up lots, and also lift weights. We must not drink too much; ever-louder voices say women shouldn’t drink at all. I’ll never forget Dame Sally Davies, Britain’s chief medical officer, advising women to “do as I do when I reach for my glass of wine – think: ‘Do I want to raise my own risk of breast cancer?’”
Meanwhile, the authors of another recent study on the dangers of imbibement announced that even half a bottle of wine was equivalent to smoking 10 fags. That really ruined my day.
So, no drinking, and no nice food.
A breakthrough 2005 study on longevity, which focused on a number of “blue zones” around the world where people live the longest, found that these happy ancients didn’t eat much (only until they were 80% full) and stuck to beans, veg, fruit and whole grains. Oh to prefer beans to soft-baked chocolate chip cookies.
But it’s not enough to eat carefully or exercise a million times a week. Now, it turns out, we also have to get our romantic lives in order, too.
According to the latest UK Office for National Statistics household survey, marital status has emerged as the most significant factor in happiness and wellbeing, actually overtaking employment and solid finances.
It can be hard to keep up. Just the week before we were told, by way of the world’s most thorough sex survey, Natsal-3, that failing to have regular sex is also bad for health. Natsal-3 recorded a particularly sharp drop in sex rates among the married and cohabiting, flagged a source of medical concern, since, according to the report’s authors, “weekly sex might help fend off illness”.
To sum up: optimum health requires a blissful, libidinous marriage. Easy peasy!
Then there’s sleep. As someone who battles with insomnia, regular headlines informing me that not sleeping enough or sleeping badly will contribute to cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes are as eye-catching as they are stress-inducing. I get it. If I want to avoid a grisly early death, probably from cancer, I need to get married to the man of my dreams, eat mostly fruit and plants, exercise frenetically, sleep eight hours a night, minimise stress, breathe fresher air, eradicate fat, not allow myself to sit for long periods, achieve happiness, find purpose and master mindfulness.But the first hurdle is learning to accept the incontrovertible, cruel reality that if we want to live a long and healthy life, we have to embrace the boring, the dull and the virtuous. Pass the kale.– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)