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The simple things longevity experts do every day to live a longer healthier life

Eating spermidine-rich food, like shiitake mushrooms, can help prevent chronic illness
Eating spermidine-rich food, like shiitake mushrooms, can help prevent chronic illness - Heathcliff O'Malley

The race to de-age comes with spectacularly experimental suggestions. Take the tribe of tech millionaires competing in the Rejuvenation Olympics to see who can best reduce their biological age. On the agenda is don’t-try-this-at-home stuff like self-injected young blood and implanted health monitors. But at the other end of the spectrum is a growing group of serious longevity scientists looking at the small, habitual changes proven to add up to a longer life.

Longevity medicine isn’t only about living longer though. We’ve managed to do that already – just not very well. “Life expectancy has doubled in the 20th century, but in the Western world, people are living one fifth of their lives with at least one chronic disease or other,” says Dr Philip Borg, a longevity medicine specialist (longevitydoctor.net) and interventional radiologist.

Latest figures show an average UK life expectancy of 78.6 years for males and 82.6 years for females. And yet, 74 per cent of people in the UK aged 65-74 will be living with at least one diagnosed long-term condition, while this rises to a staggering 86.5 per cent in people aged 75-84 and 86 per cent in the over 85s.

“In longevity medicine, we’re trying to optimise what we call ‘healthspan’ by encouraging simple lifestyle practices that help prevent the main long-term diseases. These include diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular diseases as well as Alzhiemer’s and other neurodegenerative conditions,” says Dr Borg. “Longevity medicine isn’t necessarily all about living longer, it’s about living better.”

But which healthy habits consistently make it into the daily routines of specialists like Dr Borg, that any one of us could adopt too? The Telegraph spoke to seven longevity experts to find out.

Dr Philip Borg, 40, does daily 'rucking' - walking with a weighted backpack
Dr Philip Borg, 40, does daily 'rucking' - walking with a weighted backpack - Paul Cooper

‘I walk to work carrying a 25kg rucksack’

Dr Philip Borg, 40

Longevity medicine specialist and an interventional radiologist at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust

“My job is sedentary so for me, exercise is important. I do an hour of zone two exercise most days. That’s long, slow exercise and easiest to fit into your life because it’s very low intensity and done at 60-70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. It’s not intense so you can do more of it. Gentle jogs, fast walks (ideally weighted), rowing, elliptical training and cycling are great examples of low intensity zone two training.

“I use a heart rate tracker but an easy measure is to think of exercising so that you are a bit breathless but still able to keep up a conversation. I use a Peloton stationary bike for half an hour while listening to a podcast or doing some work. I also walk to work and back carrying a rucksack for 30 minutes (each way).

“Called ‘rucking’, it’s simply walking with a weighted backpack. It should weigh about a third of your body weight – mine contains 25 kgs of weights as I weigh 70kg – though you should build it up slowly. Wearing it can improve cardiovascular health and bone density (because weight bearing exercise like this can help build your bones) and like any zone two training, improves your mitochondrial efficiency.

“Each of our cells are powered by a mitochondria that generates energy for the cell. As we age, our mitochondria start decreasing in efficiency and in number and that is one of the main reasons why metabolic diseases like diabetes and cancer increase as we age. Zone two training improves your mitochondrial health decreasing your risk of chronic diseases of ageing like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It’s best done for 30-60 minutes four or more times a week.”

'This works those long back muscles and the tummy': Prof Norman Lazarus, 88
'This works those long back muscles and the tummy': Prof Norman Lazarus, 88 - Christopher Pledger

‘I hold a plank for 3 minutes a day’

Prof Norman Lazarus, 88

Emeritus professor and longevity researcher, King’s College Guy’s Campus and author of The Longevity Strategy: How to Age Well and Wisely (Yellow Kite 2021 £7.45).

“I wake up every morning and do 10 minutes of resistance exercise. As I am doing each move I imagine I am wearing one of those Victorian corsets that keeps you so upright it’s almost impossible to bend in it. I design my exercise to get that same effect, using that corset of muscles in my tummy – the abdominals, the obliques at the sides and muscles in my lower back. I do a series of moves to strengthen all of those muscles, keeping those muscles tight and engaged.

“The moves include holding a plank for three minutes because this works those long back muscles which keep you upright and the tummy. I’ve worked up to three minutes over about three years. I also do 100 sit ups with my legs over a chair at right angles and my back on the floor. Then I do another 100 sit ups side to side with my elbows out, all while imagining I am wearing this corset.

“Twice a week, my wife and I also go for a four kilometre country walk here in the North Downs where we live. I used to do a lot of road cycling and still clock up about 100 kilometres a week, though right now it’s too cold.

“One of the biggest problems when you get old is falling down and breaking a bone as your bones are thinner. If you break a hip, that’s a death sentence as you’re forced to cut down on all your activities and that loss of activity is bad news in older age. It’s important to do a level of activity that’s right for your age. My current one is right for me, it keeps my heart and bones healthy and means I still walk upright at 88 and have no problem walking up and down the stairs!”

Leslie Kenny, 58, eats fermented plums every day
Leslie Kenny, 58, eats fermented plums every day - Heathcliff O'Malley

‘I eat spermidine-rich foods’

Leslie Kenny, 58

Harvard Business School graduate, founder of Oxford Healthspan and co-founder of the Oxford Longevity Project 

“When I was 39, I was told I had five years to live. I had had three different autoimmune disorders that confounded doctors. So I set out to learn everything I could about health, wellness and longevity and here I am almost 20 years later in total health. I recently had my biological age tested and it was 21! I’ve learned that longevity is about living in a way that brings the body back into balance. I want people to know that they have a lot more power than they think to heal themselves.

“I eat fermented plums (called ‘umeboshi’ and found in Japanese supermarkets) every day. The plums are rich in spermidine, a substance formed of two amino acids that’s essential to the survival of the human species. A meta analysis co-authored by one of our scientific advisers, Prof Katja Simon, at The Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology, University of Oxford concluded that spermidine could help inhibit all 12 pathways down which we age.

“As the name suggests, it is found in semen – it powers the sperm to swim carrying DNA – as well as in human breast milk. Spermidine is also found in other fermented foods like Japanese fermented soya beans (called natto), as well as in Stilton cheese, kimchi and sauerkraut, shiitake mushrooms as well as non-fermented foods like wheat germ.

“I have the plums with cooled, boiled Jasmine rice. When cold, rice becomes a resistant starch which is a type of fibre essential to healthy gut bacteria. It can also help keep your blood sugar more stable – both can contribute to helping prevent chronic illness in later life.”

Taking vitamin D3 supplements can help prevent chronic illnesses, says Dr David Clancy, 59
Taking vitamin D3 supplements can help prevent chronic illnesses, says Dr David Clancy, 59 - SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

‘I take magnesium at night’

Dr David Clancy, 59

Lecturer in biogentorology at Lancaster University 

“There’s a fair consensus that most people could benefit from more magnesium. I’ve been researching the delay of age-related illnesses for decades and, in 2005, I did an experiment with fruit flies and looked at a number of interventions to see if they correlated with longer survival. The one that stood out was done with magnesium. The fly strain that lived longest had highest magnesium and the ones that were shortest had lowest magnesium.

“I’ve been taking 1500mg of magnesium citrate every night since. The citrate form helps with absorption and taking it at night can be helpful because it can help with sleep. It’s also involved in 600 other bodily reactions, including helping potentially with exercise performance and mood regulation.

“Since that study, more research has linked magnesium levels with healthy ageing and longevity. Low magnesium intake is also linked to increased levels of inflammation, which plays a crucial role in ageing and chronic disease. One review of 11 studies found that magnesium supplements reduced levels of C-reaction protein, a marker of inflammation, in people with chronic inflammation. Magnesium is found in dark green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and wholegrains.

“I also take a vitamin D3 supplement. There is a tonne of evidence saying that it’s helpful for the immune system, for bones and the prevention of many chronic illnesses. My work hasn’t focused on it but the epidemiological evidence for it is strong. Plus, in Britain, the fact is, we just don’t get enough sunlight to provide all our vitamin D needs so most of us should be taking supplements.”

'Having a healthy gut bacteria composition increases the length of time you spend disease-free': Prof Niharika Duggal, 37
'Having a healthy gut bacteria composition increases the length of time you spend disease-free': Prof Niharika Duggal, 37 - Natalia Gdovskaia/Moment RF

‘I have a salad with dinner’

Prof Niharika Duggal, 37

Assistant Professor in Immunity and Ageing, Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, University of Birmingham

“It’s going to sound so simple and everyone knows it, but having your five a day is crucial to your gut health and big studies have shown that having a healthy microbiome [gut bacteria] composition increases longevity and the length of time you spend disease-free.

“When you think of bacteria, you may think it’s something bad, but of course there’s beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus or bifidobacteria. From your central nervous system development, to your food metabolism, to your cardiovascular health, and your immune system, healthy bacteria in your gut are now being recognised as one of the central key factors affecting your long-term health. But as we age, we get more pathogenic (harmful) bacteria in our guts. We need to maintain a balance between the two.

“Thankfully, your gut bacteria is easily modified by the food you eat. That’s not only about eating fermented foods and drinks (probiotics). These can put the healthy bacteria into your gut, but something has to crucially make them grow and proliferate and that is fruits and vegetables. These are known as prebiotics because they feed the beneficial bacteria and help them expand.

“You need a variety so I try to follow a rainbow diet. My snack after lunch is fruits and that subsides my craving for desserts. At dinner time, we have a big portion of salad and different types of vegetables every night. I try to follow a Mediterranean diet because it’s strongly associated with immune health. It’s also anti-inflammatory, improves your cardiovascular health and your cognition and it’s very rich in the dietary fibres that your gut bacteria loves. Plus, it’s easy.”

'Social interaction reduces the risk of neurodegenerative illnesses like dementia': Prof Claudio Mauro, 46
'Social interaction reduces the risk of neurodegenerative illnesses like dementia': Prof Claudio Mauro, 46 - Geber86/Getty

‘I meet a friend for coffee’

Prof Claudio Mauro, 46

Professor of Inflammation and Ageing, Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, University of Birmingham

“If you look at what keeps adults healthy well into older age, the social aspect plays a huge part. I meet with friends or family every day for coffee and in the summer I play tennis and we always stay behind and have a beer together.

“The Blue Zones Project looked at the communities in the world that lived the longest disease-free and what kept them well (it’s also a documentary on Netflix). These included Ikaria in Greece, Sardinia in Italy and Okinawa in Japan and what all the zones had in common was that their inhabitants remained socially engaged every day well into old age. It’s not the focus of my research, but being from southern Italy myself and very sociable, I make sure I practise this every day.

“In one of the longest studies of adult life, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, 268 Harvard graduates have been followed since the Great Depression. While only 19 are still alive, the researchers studied all the participants’ health trajectories and found that how happy they were in their relationships had the most powerful influence on all areas of their health. In fact, the people most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.

“Social interaction is also especially helpful in reducing risk of neurodegenerative illnesses like dementia, according to a large body of research. Feeling regular love and affection from others keeps the brain engaged into longer life.”

'For such a simple change, it can have a huge impact on sleep and energy levels': Jason Prall, 40
'For such a simple change, it can have a huge impact on sleep and energy levels': Jason Prall, 40 - RyanJLane/E+

‘I walk outside for 20 minutes every morning’

Jason Prall, 40

Functional medicine practitioner, author of Beyond Longevity: A proven plan for healing faster, feeling better and thriving at any age (Hay House 2022, £11.24) and creator of the nine-part documentary series The Human Longevity Project

“Every morning for the last 13 years, I have exposed my eyes to daylight by taking a 20-minute walk outside. The cycle of light and dark synchronises our body clocks and that can impact long-term health. In 2017, three scientists won the Nobel Prize for medicine for their work in this area. They showed how every cell in our bodies, as well as all of life including animals and plants, responds to this light and dark cycle – known as our circadian rhythms or biological clock. And when that’s off, all cause mortality goes up. In other words, every chronic disease and disease related to death can increase.

“The 20 minutes is arbitrary. I chose it because it was a length of time that I knew I would actually do. The main thing is to expose my eyes to the daylight. This helps regulate sleep and energy hormones like cortisol, our wake up hormone, and melatonin which you make when it’s dark and gets you tired. When the light hits the eye, it passes through the optic chiasm, where the optic nerves from both eyes partially cross, allowing the brain to receive information from both eyes.  This information impacts the pituitary gland, the master hormone that influences hormone regulation and overall health. For such a simple change, it can have a huge impact on sleep and energy levels.

“There’s seasonality to this too and the key is to try to get outside when the sun is up. So I am on the west coast of America and in the summer, the sun comes up a lot earlier than in the winter – just like in the UK – so I time my walks to be earlier in summer and later in winter. The main thing is to expose your eyes to daylight as early as possible in the day to help set your biological clock for the day.”