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Ten keys to living longer

Experts at the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania have put together the top 10 tips that can help you live healthily to a ripe old age

By Miranda Harman

Colour Me Active fun run
Rainbow runners: The annual Colour Me Active fun run is organised by the University-managed Active Launceston, which aims to improve the health and wellbeing of the Launceston community through physical activity.

Unfortunately there is no single secret to a long and healthy life. But a commitment to good health and keeping an eye on what medical science is telling us does make a difference. With this in mind, researchers at the Menzies Research Institute at the University of Tasmania have released their Top 10 Tips for a Long and Healthy Life.

The list grew out of a discussion among researchers about the most important ways people could contribute to their own quality of life and longevity. Research at Menzies is guided by the diseases that impact most on the Tasmanian population – heart disease, cancer, dementia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, mental health problems and diabetes.

  1. Build at least 30 minutes of exercise into your daily life. You don’t have to be exercising at the level of an athlete to get benefit from physical activity. National guidelines for adults – well supported by evidence – recommend activity on most (preferably all) days. Plan to average 20-40 minutes a day of moderate activity or 10-20 minutes a day of vigorous activity. Strength, balance and flexibility are also important, especially for older people. Muscle strengthening exercise should be done at least two days a week.

  2. Eat wisely, always include breakfast and watch portion sizes. Poor diet is a major cause of death and disease. Most people do not eat enough fruit and vegetables and eat too many highly processed foods. Adults should try to eat at least five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day. It is important to watch how much you eat, especially for foods and drinks that are high in fat and sugar. People who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight or obese and have higher risk factors for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

  3. Do something intellectually stimulating every day. It is important to keep your brain healthy, too. Engaging in intellectually stimulating activities affects the plasticity of the brain. This is effectively how brain cells make and maintain neural pathways. Currently there are more than 300,000 Australians living with dementia, and nearly 2000 new cases are being diagnosed weekly. There is evidence to suggest enhancing neuroplasticity might actually help protect against the decline in brain function that leads to dementia. This can be achieved by engaging frequently in social outings, trying new things or tackling a crossword.

  4. Know the signs of poor mental health and act on them. One in five Australians will experience a mental health or substance-abuse disorder in any given year. Knowing the early warning signs of worsening mental health may help you, your family, a friend or colleague. These signs can include changes in mood and usual activities and not getting as much done at home, work or school. Seeking help early means supports can be put in place and lead to better outcomes.

  5. See your GP for regular screening and, where recommended, vaccinations. More than 90 per cent of the population see their GP at least once a year. This ready access allows timely presentation for screening for cancers and cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, and early presentation of other diseases such as depression. Vaccinations not only prevent the disease itself but also reduce other serious diseases. For example, the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce heart attacks in people suffering from heart disease.

  6. Be active and sun smart outdoors. Get together with family and friends for physical activity. Engaging in activity with others can help to sustain participation by improving motivation, increasing accountability and enhancing enjoyment. Be a good physical activity role model for your children, play with them outdoors, and consider getting a pet. Spending time outside – while following sun smart recommendations – will boost your Vitamin D levels.

  7. Try to avoid breathing polluted air. Air pollution increases the risk of heart and lung diseases. Healthy people usually cope with short episodes of poor air quality without problems but people at higher risk include those with existing heart or lung disease (such as asthma), older people and the very young. If you smoke, avoid this around others, especially children, in enclosed spaces. Even better, consider quitting. Smoking a single cigarette exposes you to far more air pollution than a bad day in Beijing. If you use a wood heater, burn with flames, use wood that has been well dried and avoid overnight smouldering.

  8. Limit alcohol. Alcohol has an impact on the digestive system, the central nervous system, the circulatory system and the endocrine system. Damage caused by alcohol to the body results not only from the quantity drunk but also other factors such how old you are, the environment in which you are drinking, genetics and health. For healthy men and women who drink, limiting intake to no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces the risk of alcohol-related disease or injury.

  9. Be safety conscious. Most accidents at home, work and out on the roads are foreseeable and therefore avoidable. We can identify what factors may make an accident more likely – for example use of drugs and alcohol, being sleep deprived, or operating faulty or improperly maintained equipment. By knowing what these factors are, you can protect yourself and others from injury – for example, by taking a taxi home or getting maintenance to fix that faulty safety guard at work.

  10. Start today. No matter how young or old you are, doing something is better than nothing.

"Strength, balance and flexibility are also important, especially for older people."

University offers help with psychological and physiological problems

The community can tap into the University’s expertise via its psychology and physiology clinics.

The University Psychology Clinic, based at the Sandy Bay campus, provides free specialist psychology assessment and treatment for members of the public, including children and parents, adolescents, adults and older adults.

It allows postgraduate students (who are provisionally registered as psychologists) an opportunity to conduct assessments and provide evidence-based treatments under the close supervision of a clinical supervisor.

“We see clients with a range of presentations including anxiety, depression, relationship issues, parenting concerns and health issues,” UPC Manager and Clinical Psychologist Dr Tracey Dean explains. “We also conduct cognitive assessments for intellectual disability, learning disability and neurological conditions such as traumatic brain injury.”

Current programs include Managing Your Sleep, Cool Little Kids and Cool Kids.

The Cool Kids programs use a cognitive behavioural therapy approach to help parents and children (8+ years) learn about anxiety and how best to manage their symptoms. The program is for parents of children who show early signs of anxiety, such as shyness or being withdrawn.

The purpose-built Exercise Physiology Clinic at the Newnham campus is currently running classes in cardiac rehabilitation; pulmonary rehabilitation and therapeutic Pilates, as well as exercise programs for cancer patients.It caters for more than 100 patients a week.

“The clinic provides learning opportunities that assist our students in gaining professional accreditation but also allows patients with chronic illnesses – such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – to receive one-on-one fitness help,” clinic director Dr Andrew Williams said.

The team of five academics providing the clinic’s services was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s community engagement award for 2013.

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