Think Tank

Simple steps for a healthier retirement: Guest spot by Dr Dawn Harper

1st March 2019

We are living longer

A girl born today can expect to live beyond her 83rd birthday, and a boy half way into his 80th year. Life expectancy is on an upward curve, but living long doesn’t necessarily mean living well. So if we are going to live longer, we need to do everything we can to make sure we have a healthy, happy and lengthy retirement.

There are steps we can all take to prepare for a healthier later life. And while it’s a bit like a pension – the earlier you invest, the more you will have in the bank later – there are lessons for all of us to consider, whatever our age.

Knowing where to start can be a challenge. There is a myriad of information available, and recommendations on what’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us change almost daily, as medical and nutritional research evolves.

Old Mill recently sponsored one of the talks at the Dorchester Literature Festival where Dr Dawn Harper, from Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies, urged us to start investing in our health now to improve our chances of enjoying our latter years to the full.

Dr Dawn’s recent book, Live Well to 101 – A Practical Guide to Achieving a Long and Healthy Life, explains some of the medical obstacles to a healthy old age and what we can do about them. It offers simple, practical advice alongside case studies of centenarians who live a full and healthy life.

The good news is that Dr Dawn doesn’t recommend a hideously restrictive diet or living your life as though you are training for a marathon. Instead, she explains how small, achievable and sustainable changes really can alter your future. So here are some of Dr Dawn’s main tips.

1. If you are offered a screening test on the NHS, take it

Knowledge is key, so if you have the opportunity to gain greater insight into your health for free, it would be prudent to take it.

2. Know your family history

While genetics play a part in many diseases, very few are solely genetically inherited. Knowing what hand nature may have dealt you allows you to look at the lifestyle steps you can take to counter any predisposition to medical conditions such as cancers, osteoporosis, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

3. Measure your waist

A woman with a waist circumference greater than 32 inches or a man with a waist over 37 inches is at increased risk of conditions such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If that’s you, changing your lifestyle to tackle your weight could make all the difference to your future.

4. Go for a walk

All the healthy centenarians Dr Dawn interviewed had been active throughout their lives. Simply by going for a brisk walk for 10 minutes each day, you reduce the risk of premature death by 15% and the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes by 40%.

5. Invest in smaller plates and glasses, and never eat standing up

Obesity is a massive cause of ill health in later life. Putting all your food on a smaller plate will make it feel like a bigger meal and you will train yourself to want less food. And if you only eat when sitting down, you will naturally avoid all those extra snacks that you don’t really need but that can significantly ramp up your daily calorie intake.

6. Stay in touch with family and friends

Try to maintain a good social network. There is plenty of evidence that those of us who do so are more likely to live a longer and more healthy life, so by staying in touch you are not only improving your quality of life today, you are also investing in your future.

7. Do something each day that makes you smile

It doesn’t matter what it is, but a positive outlook really will help you to live longer and better.

8. Eat more vegetables

Only one in four British adults eats the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and that is undoubtedly contributing to ill health in later life. So try to increase the amount of fruit and vegetables in your diet.

Live Well to 101 – A Practical Guide to Achieving a Long and Healthy Life by Dr Dawn Harper

Is Published by Headline Home, and is out now.