I love writing about the things that age us – and those that keep us young. And last week, doing just this, I came across a brilliant little quiz from the BBC’s HowTo Stay Young – it took about 3 minutes to complete, and told me I am biologically 20 years younger than my actual age.
Now that’s just what any girl wants to hear. So how did it come about?
Well, starting with my height, weight, and age, I had years taken off for owning a dog (doddle!), never having smoked, only drinking up to 14 units a week, and having a sunny outlook. Stress is fine, it seems, as long as you can cope with it by distracting yourself or talking about it (the box I ticked). And by saying I was “always optimistic”, I had another 8 years knocked off my chronological age. Had I been “mostly optimistic” (I was torn), I would still have scored well – but not quite as well as I did.
Exercise was another biggy. I ticked that I exercise “most days”. There was a note on this page to say that by exercise the test meant doing something for 20 minutes that would leave me out of breath. I’m not sure how out of breath I should be – but hope that a raised heartbeat on a 30-40 minute dog walk counts. If not I could be 8 years older…
I was proud of my biological age of 35 – but I could have knocked yet another five years off if I’d regularly fasted. (Which could be just the incentive I need to go back on the 5:2 diet).
Chillingly, I then tried putting in different results to see what would happen if – even at the same weight – I was a 20 year 20-a-day smoker who drank more than 14 units a week, ate a lot of processed food, never exercised, and was a born pessimist… The result? Those habits – adopted by so many people my age – would have pitched me at no less than 108!!
We are now expected to live until our early 80s. But this little test shows just how much our lifestyle should influence this expectation.
Here are some of the other things I’m doing to try and preserve my youth:
. Being wordy – those who write complex sentences tend to keep a healthy brain for longer. I write all the time – but only rarely is my writing complex, so I also do the Times Codeword whenever I can. (Though I have to admit the Mirror’s Codeword was far more challenging last time I did it, on the plane to Nice).
. Eating blueberries – they’re full of anthocyanins, the substances credited with keeping brains young and healthy.
. I do yoga, and swim – both of which help to keep me agile.
. I walk: not only does it help to keep my heart young, but a London University study found that just one hour of brisk walking twice a week increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus, significantly boosting mental skills in just 10 weeks.
. Finally, I’m also trying to practice the sit to stand test – going from standing down to cross-legged sitting on the floor, and back up again unaided and without too many wobbles. In one study of 51 to 80 year olds, those with the lowest scores were 5-6 times more likely to die within the next six years than those with the highest scores. If you’re going to try this, start with your maximum score of 10. Five for sitting, and five for standing back up. Lose a point every time you have to use a hand or knee for support, and a ½ point every time you wobble.