Live long and prosper … tips to keep the Grim Reaper at bay.
1 Walk faster
The Grim Reaper may look intimidating, but he's certainly no greyhound. In a study published last year in the British Medical Journal, researchers at Sydney's Concord Hospital and Sydney University calculated the Reaper's preferred walking speed to be about 3 km/h. The study, which tracked the walking speed and survival rates of 1700 men aged over 70 during a five-year period, found that those who walked faster than 3 km/h were 1.23 times less likely to die than slower walkers, while men who walked faster than 5 km/h outpaced death - if only temporarily.
2 "Houston, we don't have a problem ..."
It sounds like one of the most dangerous activities possible: landing on the moon. But of the 12 men who have stepped on the moon's surface, only two have died before their 70th birthdays: James Irwin, at 61, and Pete Conrad (69). Alan Shepard lasted till 74, Neil Armstrong till 82. The other eight are still alive in their late 70s and 80s. Two of the three astronauts from that most precarious of space missions, Apollo 13, are still alive as well.
3 Squat to go
The conventional Western toilet is a stone cold killer, according to Israeli researcher Dr Berko Sikirov, who advocates what ancient yogis have known for millennia: squatting is best. Squatting opens up the recto-anal angle, making elimination faster, easier and more complete. This helps prevent "faecal stagnation", a prime factor in colon cancer, appendicitis and inflammatory bowel disease. Squatting also seals the ileocecal valve, preventing leakage into the small intestine. Researchers at the University of Wollongong also recommend it as an effective, non-invasive treatment for haemorrhoids.
Take care … to avoid snakes, a broken heart and mozzies abroad. Oh, and sit at the back of the plane.
4 Dawn Fraser, swimmer and politician, 75 , says:
“My nine-yearold grandson keeps me fit and healthy; we go out on the jetski, play cricket and rugby and go fishing. He’s always playing jokes on his grandma; he’s a jovial fella.”
5 Marion von Adlerstein, author, 80, says:
“I’ve never done a stroke of formal exercise in my life, but I’ve always moved quickly, and with purpose. I never walk if I can take a taxi – better still, a limo.”
6 Get hitched, but be happy
Marriage is a life saver. Decades of research have shown married people are less likely to die violently, catch pneumonia, have surgery, be involved in car accidents and develop cancer and dementia. Oh, and they apparently have more sex. But the health benefits only accrue to those in happy marriages: a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests that a stressful marriage could be as bad for you as smoking.
7 Stay interested
Yes, it's possible to be bored to death. In 2009, University College London researchers analysed questionnaires completed between 1985 and 1988 by 7500 civil servants who were asked if they'd been bored at work during the previous month. They found those who had reported being very bored were 2.5 times more likely to have subsequently died of a heart problem than those who said they had not been bored.
8 Avoid quad bikes
Quad bikes are now the biggest killers on Australian farms, causing twice as many deaths as tractors. Despite this, the notoriously unstable bikes don't need to conform to design standards, helmets are not compulsory and there is no minimum age for riders.
9 Hold the mayo
You can find it in soil, alfalfa and cider, in dirty nappies and ground beef. It remains infectious for weeks to months in mayonnaise and cheddar - even at cold temperatures. E coli 0157:H7, which effects millions worldwide, usually causes diarrhoea. But in 2 to 10 per cent of cases it also results in kidney failure, seizures, strokes, pancreatitis, colonic perforation, hypertension and coma. If you're a parent changing nappies, wash your hands. And give your burgers a little longer on the grill.
10 Listen up
"Death by iPod" is now a threat to urbanites, with a 2011 study in the US journal Injury Prevention showing serious injuries and deaths had tripled since 2005 among pedestrians hit by a car or train while listening to an iPod or other handheld device.
11 Avoid boxing, do the crossword
Almost 8300 Australians died of dementia and Alzheimer's in 2009 - 126 per cent up on 2000. About 270,000 Australians have the disease, with this figure set to reach one million by 2050. If you don't want to be one of these people, then you should lose weight and keep active (many of the same factors that increase your risk of heart disease also increase your risk of Alzheimer's), avoid head trauma and work out, cognitively speaking. Learn a new language. Do crosswords. Memorise lists. Take up a musical instrument. And if you can, visit VibrantBrains (vibrantbrains.com), a San Francisco gym for your cerebrum.
12 Work from home
The average office is a sinkhole of vagrant bacteria and airborne viruses, a microscopic swamp of skin flakes, clothes fibres and scalp creatures. Add to this not only the microbial aerosol ejected from your colleagues' mouths as they talk, laugh, cough and sneeze, but the potentially carcinogenic haze of volatile organic compounds constantly emitted by floor tiles, carpets, paint, varnish, furniture, glue and wall coverings. Just your desk is, in terms of bacteria, 400 times dirtier than your toilet, according to University of Arizona microbiologist Dr Charles Gerba.
13 Investigate before you renovate
Some 4700 Australians have died of asbestos-related diseases, with 700 new cases diagnosed each year. More than 25,000 Australians will die from it in the next 40 years, many of them renovators exposed to asbestos while working on homes built when its use was common (1945 to 1980). If you think you have some in your home, consult WorkCover for a list of licensed removal contractors.
14 Don't retire
Retiring early is a health hazard, but only if you're male. Austrian researchers looked at a group of blue-collar workers born between 1929 and 1941, and discovered that those who retired early (that is, before 61.5 years), had a 13.4 per cent increase in the risk of dying before 67. Each year of early retirement cut 1.8 months off your life, mainly due to the "negative health habits" of retirees, with smoking and drinking contributing to 32 per cent of retiree deaths.
15 Peter Sculthorpe, composer, 83, says:
“Never think about getting older. For most of my life, I’ve driven a red G. When I went to buy my present car 10 years ago, the dealer said, ‘At your time of life, wouldn’t it be better to have a silver one?’ I got the red one.”
16 Margaret Fulton, cookery expert, 88, says:
“In the evening I like to drink a lovely Highland single malt whisky. My father had it every day and he lived to 95, and my sister had it also and she lived to 94.”
17 "Cheer" not
Don't let the pompoms fool you - cheerleading is lethal. With its emphasis on flips, jumps and other aerial manoeuvres, cheerleading is now recognised as the most dangerous activity for American girls, with the number of "cheering"-related emergency-room visits increasing six-fold since 1982. According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 73 catastrophic injuries in cheerleading, including two deaths, between 1982 and 2008 - more than all other sports combined. Meanwhile, in Australia, cheerleaders have been banned from baring their midriffs, with Gymnastics Australia fearing it might encourage anorexia.
18 Love hurts
Breaking up is hard to do. It can also kill you. Broken-heart syndrome, or stress cardiomyopathy, is a sudden temporary weakening of the heart muscle triggered by acute emotional stress, such as the death of a loved one or getting dumped by the man or woman of your dreams. While commonly resulting in irregular heart rhythms, the condition, which is clinically different to a heart attack, can be fatal. Interestingly, it's also known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, as the temporary ballooning in the tip of the left ventricle that it causes can resemble the signature Japanese fishing pot.
19 Check your fridge
About 5.4 million cases of food poisoning occurred in Australia in 2009, including 9533 cases of salmonella. Gastrointestinal illness alone affected 36,426 people, hospitalising 1240 and killing 118. You can't control what goes on in a restaurant, but you can in your own kitchen. Ensure your fridge is kept below 5ºC with adequate air flow to ensure even temperature distribution, and that frozen foods are thawed in either the fridge or the microwave (the longer food is left at room temperature the more quickly bacteria multiply).
Of the 5 million people bitten by snakes worldwide every year, 95,000 will die. The rest will have a really bad day. People in south Asia, south-east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are most at risk, but Australia also has some snakes worth avoiding, including browns, taipans and tiger snakes. The Australian Venom Research Unit says that 95 per cent of snake bites occur on the limbs, with 75 per cent of these on lower limbs. Their advice: leave snakes alone, cut your grass, and never handle snakes while intoxicated.
21 Watch your step
In 1971, 17-year-old Juliane Koepcke survived a fall of 3.2 kilometres after the plane she was travelling in disintegrated in mid air over the Amazon. She was lucky. Worldwide, 424,000 people die every year from falls. According to the World Health Organisation, falls are the world's second leading cause of accidental death, with those aged 65 and over at greatest risk. Prevention includes treating low blood pressure, "home assessment and environmental modification" (no more pole dancing), muscle strengthening and tai chi.
About 2000 Australians die from the flu every year, says Professor Mark Walker of the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre. Flu vaccines are available, and some companies offer them free to their employees. "But the flu virus changes every year or so, like a leopard changing its spots, which is why new vaccines come out every year," Walker says. Researchers are trying to develop a "universal vaccine", which protects against all strains. Until this is available, however, a yearly jab is the best prevention, especially if you're over 50.
23 Fly economy
Passengers flying economy are more likely to survive a plane crash, according to researchers who crashed a Boeing 727 into the Mexican desert earlier this year. After hitting the ground, the front of the plane - where first- and business-class passengers usually sit - was ripped off. Experts concluded that no first-class passengers would have survived, yet 78 per cent of the other passengers would have, with the odds improving the further back you sit.
24 Peter Cundall, Gardener, 85, says:
“Always retain an insatiable interest and curiosity about everything – except football, horse racing and fashion.”
25 Avoid hypochondria and court cases
Nocebos are a drug or procedure that doctors know to be inert but the subject believes to be harmful. (Voodoo is a good example.) Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Arthur Barsky says the nocebo effect can inhibit a patient's healing or exacerbate side effects. A subset of nocebo, compensation neurosis, can affect accident victims who become embroiled in long-running court cases in pursuit of damages. Apparently, the ongoing litigation subconsciously convinces the plaintiff to stay wounded.
26 Miss late-night shopping
Thursday evening, between 3pm and 9pm, is the deadliest time to be on the road, says the federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport. Of the 1292 fatalities on Australia's roads last year, the largest number - 213 - occurred during this period.
27 Avoid sandflies ...
Trouble swallowing? Got skin sores that won't go away? Been bitten by sandflies lately? If so, you may have leishmaniasis, a parasite spread by sandflies that kills 200,000 people a year via haemorrhage, liver damage and secondary infections. There are no vaccines or drugs to prevent the disease. If you're travelling, pack a mosquito net, long pants and insect repellent.
28 ... and strays ...
Rabies is a nasty and highly infectious disease that kills 55,000 people annually. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US says 99 per cent of human rabies deaths are due to dog bites. Symptoms include weakness and fever, followed by cerebral dysfunction, delirium and hallucinations. If travelling, get a vaccination. If bitten, get a post-exposure vaccination, fast.
29 ... and mosquitoes
There were 216 million cases of malaria in 2010, and 655,000 deaths; 99 countries have it, and resistance to anti-malarial medicines is increasing. The answer? Avoid mozzies, especially at night, pack your anti-malarials, and finish taking them after coming home.
30 Check radon levels
Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium found in nearly all soils, but also in bricks, concrete and rocks. A known carcinogen, it can move up via the foundations into your home, where it becomes trapped. You can reduce radon levels in houses by increasing ventilation in the under-floor space. For a radon map of Australia by postcode, go to arpansa.gov.au/radiationprotection/factsheets/is_RadonMap.cfm.
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