Live the good life

So here's some cheery news to absorb along with your scrambled eggs in the morning: the healthy life expectancy of South Africans is 39,8 years.

Yes yes, it's HIV/Aids that does us in, but still. Dying young is hardly glamorous if everyone's doing it (especially if you haven't lived fast). Compare that to the healthy life expectancy of the Japanese, the world longevity champions at 74,5 years.

I owe this information to Prof David Richardson, a specialist consultant in nutrition and food science who is visiting South Africa as the guest of the Health Products Association of South Africa.

Healthy life expectancy is a measure defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) referred to as Dale (disability-adjusted life expectancy); basically it refers to the time you're able to live with pleasure and ease, and without assistance. In 1999 they measured the gap between healthy life expectancy and the total life expectancy globally to be eight years.

Brings to mind the words of Jonathan Swift: 'Every man desires to live long: but no man would be old.'

The question is, what can we do to make those eight years un-'old' – is there anything we can do to try and die peacefully in our sleep one night, in full possession of all our faculties until the sudden end? What can we do to avoid exiting in a manner that frightens small children?

Well, says Richardson, good genes are the best start (of course). Environment and lifestyle are the other two pillars holding up the table of a graceful ending.
Among lifestyle factors, malnutrition (in all its many forms, including the obesity that results from poor eating) is key to Richardson's interest, and he gave a rather sobering picture of how the body composition of normal adult males changes with the passage of time:

- In their 20s, men have 24kg of muscle, and 15kg of fat;
- As they head towards their 50th birthday, the gap closes, to 20kg of muscle vs 19kg of fat; and
- In their 60s, it's all got messy: 17kg of muscle mass to 23kg of fat.
I'll spare you the tragic details of what happens after that.

You know what you have to do, of course. Exercise (our Fitness Zone is a fine place to start if you're still stuck). Think of food as fuel, and follow the 80:20 principle – 80% of the time, do the right thing (when in doubt, get in touch withDietDoc: she's a great source of really good information). Specifically,eat to stay young. If you already have, um, silver threads among the gold, here's some specific advice for you.

And if you're thinking a little skin-deep beauty wouldn't hurt, check out our step-by-step demonstration of various plastic surgery procedures.

Oh, by the way, Sierra Leone comes bottom of the healthy life expectancy log, at slot #191: it's a shocking 25,9 years.

Until next time,
(Heather Parker, Health24, ,May 2008)

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