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Live a longer (and better) life


If you’re an Olympic athlete – preferably a cyclist, rower or tennis player – do manual work, live in England, as opposed to Scotland or Northern Ireland, and fast one day a week we have good news for you: you’ll probably be healthier and live longer than those who aren’t or don’t.

According to recent research published on the British Medical Journal website Olympian athletes live 2.8 years longer than average and the cyclists, rowers and tennis players lived longest of all. The study examined the life spans of 25,000 athletes who competed in the Games going back as far as 1896. Those involved in contact sports such as boxing gained the least whereas cyclists and rowers had the best health. However, even those who practised lower intensity sports like golf also had a boost in health and public health specialists from Australia and the US have suggested that even moderate exercise on a regular basis of 150 minutes a week will result in a life extension of several years.

The Office of National Statistics reports that from 1997 to 2005 male life expectancy for manual workers rose faster than for non-manual workers. Nevertheless, they warn these figures may not reflect a permanent trend although they seem to indicate evidence of changing life styles pointing to the negative effects of smoking, drinking, poor diet and lack of exercise usually associated with manual workers. Comparing the years between 1997 – 2001 with 2002 – 2005 male non-manual workers of 65 years old saw a life expectancy rise of only 0.8 years, whereas the life expectancy of male manual workers of the same age rose by 1.2 years. However, some of the difference is acknowledged to be catch-up for manual workers as they traditionally scored lower than none-manual males.

So, while it might not be time to just yet to quit the office job if you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland you may want to consider a move. The Office of National Statistics reports that the proportion of life spent in good health has risen in England and Wales, but declined in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the gap between the health of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ has increased particularly in Northern Ireland. Reasons for this include poor dietary habits, excessive alcohol consumption and a lack of physical exercise as well as work, housing and access to facilities.


There’s a growing belief among scientists that fasting can improve long term health, boosting lifespan by 15-30%. Research by the Institute of Health and Aging at University College London suggests eating 40% less can extend you life by as much as 20 years. Other research in the US found that occasional fasting can reduce the risk of cancer and more regular fasting can protect the brain from degenerative disease such as Alzheimer’s. Studies on monkeys – our nearest relatives – revealed a restricted diet as delaying of the onset of cancer, coronary heart disease and diabetes later in life. Another study at the University of Illinois in Chicago found that part-time fasting leads to better weight loss, preserves lean muscle mass and burned off more fat than regular dieting.

However, some nutritionists and doctors are less convinced. They look at the way the body responds to a lack of regular nutrition. Once your cells use up the sugar in the bloodstream they seek other sources. The liver and muscles store sugar as glycogen which can be used to produce energy. After 24 hours of a water-only fast these stores are depleted and your cells begin burning fatty acids for energy. After that is used up your brain and red blood cells seek the glycogen/glucose they need from fat tissues and muscles in a survival mechanism which is designed to spare the muscles during times of famine.

As the majority of toxins in your body are stored in reserves of fat, the longer you fast on water only the more fat you’ll burn. However, this cleansing of toxins doesn’t kick in until the glycogen in your liver and muscles is used up which only begins after day one of the fast. So, a one day fast doesn’t lead to any significant detoxification although it does give your digestive organs a rest.

To avoid the breakdown of muscle tissue by depleting your sugar stores some doctors recommend a one day a week, or even once a month juice fast which can ease the digestive burden while enhancing detoxification to a certain extent. Another option is a one day raw fast eating only fresh fruits and vegetables or just drinking fresh fruit or vegetable juices.

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