Doctors’ tips: How to live a longer, healthier life

We spoke to three physicians and one social gerontologist about what can be done to live a longer life, and here is what they had to say

What’s the secret to a longer life? Photograph: Thinkstock

What’s the secret to a longer life? Photograph: Thinkstock


Dr Mark Rowe is a GP practicing in Waterford who is particularly interested in wellbeing. He wrote the recent book, A Prescription for Happiness.

1. Meditate

“Mindful meditation is what I call the silver bullet for wellbeing. It slows down the mind and allows us to de-stress and live in the moment.” It only takes 10 minutes a day.

2. Don’t take a pill for every ill

“If you’re too happy, too sad, too fat or too thin, popping a pill seems to be the answer. Move towards becoming an active participant in your own wellbeing.”

There should be “less pills and more skills like coping with adversity”.

3. Exercise for the mind and body

“Exercise is the greatest pill of all, not just because of the benefits to physical health. It’s miracle grow for the brain.” Dr Rowe says it is a great way to blow off steam, boost confidence and feel happier, thanks to the release of brain chemicals like serotonin.

4. Express gratitude

Dr Rowe says there is a growing body of research linking gratitude with better health.

“Expressing gratitude is all about wanting what you have and is a fantastic way to feel better. It’s not possible to feel grateful and also to feel negative, cynical and hostile at the same time.”

Prof Tom Scharf is the director of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology at NUI Galway. The following are social determinants of mortality.

1. Have a social life

“Nurture your social relationships. There is increasingly strong evidence that avoiding loneliness and social isolation can prolong life.”

2. Get out into your community

“Become and stay engaged in your community. Research evidence points to the positive impacts of community engagement on wellbeing and, potentially, life expectancy,” says Prof Scharf.

3. Avoid poverty

“Life expectancy has a clear ‘social gradient’. On average, people belonging to lower socio-economic groups live much shorter lives than those belonging to higher socio-economic groups.”

4. Live or remain living in the global north

The Global North is considered a socio-economic and political divide that includes North America, Western Europe and parts of East Asia.

“People living in less economically developed countries have much lower life expectancy than people living in countries such as Ireland,” he says.

Dr John Hillery is a consultant learning disability psychiatrist.

1. Manage your stress

Spend time with positive people, take time for yourself and do not take life too seriously, says Dr Hillery. Social interaction is an important part of this.

“Go out, meet people, get involved in community activities. Ask people to go for a cup of coffee,” he says.

2. Flow

Dr Hillery stresses the importance of being involved in something that absorbs you, be it work or a hobby. In a state of flow, “you forget everything” because the activity is so engaging.

“It’s good to get involved in something you enjoy and forget the negative stuff.”

3. Learn a new skill

This helps the brain maintain its capacity as it ages, says Hillery. The skill can be a physical or intellectual pursuit – both will have a good impact.

4. Breathe

“We all forget to breathe. When we don’t breathe properly, our brains get panicky because they’re not getting enough oxygen,” says Dr Hillery. “Every hour, check your breathing and posture.”

Prof Donal O’Shea is a consultant endocrinologist, obesity expert and chair of the policy group on obesity at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

1. Eat healthy

Dr O’Shea’s says avoiding the “top shelf” of the food pyramid, comprised of processed foods with high fat, sodium and sugar content will “undoubtedly increase your quality of life and life expectancy”.

2. Avoid liquid calories

“They don’t make you feel full and, with the exception of milk, are pretty much nutritionally empty.”

Dr O’Shea says young people should drink milk or water only until the age of 16 or 18.

3. Stay active

Dr O’Shea says 15 per cent of the population “have never been as fit”, while 85 per cent are not meeting minimum recommended physical activity levels. The benefits of exercise extend to everything from dementia to cancer.

He suggests making “doable” changes to activity levels, like going for a walk at lunch.

4. Sleep

According to Dr O’Shea, adults need between six and eight hours of sleep per night, and “a regular sleep pattern is a huge positive for your health”.

He says the people who do the best at his obesity clinic sleep between six and eight hours per night and get up between six and eight in the morning.