Live longer with a bit more of this – a bit less of the other!


This machine told me that my body mass index, blood pressure, heart and other things were right within 2 minutes of standing on it!

Imagine a timeline that that starts 10,000 years ago with the first modern man (and woman!). For 9,999 years, 364 days, 23 hours, 59 minutes and 15 seconds we were effectively hunter gatherers. From 45 seconds ago to 9 seconds ago we were farmers tied to the land but still physically working. For the last 9 seconds we have adopted a largely sedentary lifestyle using machines, sitting in offices, taking less exercise and eating and drinking too much.

I am reminding you or telling you this not just because it is an interesting fact but because we all need to reflect that our bodies have been honed over (actually) tens of thousands of years for one purpose and now we use them for a largely different purpose. Put simply we sit around too much, eat and drink too much and take insufficient exercise. Our bodies respond to this in a number of ways which affect our health and affect our longevity. This means that we are becoming increasingly obese which turn means a whole lot of health problems.

You might say that this rubbish. Look at the way our life spans are still increasing. We live longer than our parents and a lot, lot longer than just 5/6 generations ago. All that is true but much of that longevity is down to better water, better homes, better sewage, better food and to some extent better medicines and health and social care. We are now reaching the limits of improvements can be made using these methods and there are signs that longevity will begin to decrease.

Let’s be blunt if you are obese when you are 11 it is likely that your bones will not have developed properly and that you will be obese throughout your life. That leads to heart, liver, lung and other complaints which will cause you to die earlier than you otherwise would. Obesity has replaced smoking as the one big thing you can change to enhance your life prospects.

This week we will see the Olympic Games start in Brazil which means that it is now 4 years since the highly successful (on some measures) London Olympics. Where the London Olympics failed was on the measure of health legacy. We were told that they would ensure young and old alike to flock to the sports grounds and thus improve our health. Regrettably they created a ripple in the health currents and not the major change in direction that is so clearly required. 4 years on they have clearly had little effect in the take up of sport or the way we think of exercise.

I personally believe that this is because the Olympics require us to make heroic gestures. To be Olympians we have to lock ourselves away from society, push our bodies’ harder and harder, have a mental attitude to success that is iron strong and totally committed. The trouble is that this probably isn’t you and it certainly isn’t me!

Fortunately it doesn’t need to be. As I have looked at the public health agenda I have come to the conclusion that for most of us small and easily achievable things will make all the difference between a healthy life and an unhealthy one. Let’s look at these in turn.

Don’t stop drinking alcohol  (that one is a relief for me!) The guidelines of 14 units taken over a week allow you to go and enjoy a beer of a glass of wine when you want to. Unless you have been previously addicted the regular but occasional glass will do you no harm and will perhaps help you as well as giving you pleasure.

Don’t stop drinking fizzy drinks but only do so occasionally. The occasional coke or tonic does no harm but drinking can after can of the stuff will introduce too much sugar into your body.

Don’t stop having tasty food with some sugar and some salt in. But not too much. Think about what you eat and avoid processed food as much as possible. Increase your fruit and veg intake by just a little. Try and eat fresh cooked food and not take-aways on a regular basis. Have fun in preparing food for your own table. Save a fortune in doing some

Take some exercise on a regular basis. You don’t need to train 5 hours a day. A brisk 30 minutes’ walk three times a week can suffice although more would be better. This is not difficult to do. Just walk to the local shops instead of taking the car. Set aside time to go for a walk and a chat with someone. Look at the park or other interesting features.

Two things that you must avoid are tobacco and drugs. The things above will be of little value to you if you smoke or inject yourself to perdition!

Some people might say that I am advocating the nanny state here. Perhaps but I do talk to people who regret the path that they took earlier in life. It is never too late to start eating properly and exercising properly but it does become more difficult if you have never eaten, drunk or exercised properly and wish to in later life. Your body has physically and mentally adapted to the wrong things and sends you messages to continue doing some of those wrong things.

Why do I care about these things? Firstly because I do care about my fellow citizens and do want to promote and support things which are for their benefit. But also because not doing them properly is causing a major strain upon our National Health Services which is becoming unaffordable. If we can help people stop doing things that keep them unhealthy and help them do thing that will help keep them healthy we can prevent them needing to access services. That means we can devote more services to those, especially the elderly, whose treatment has become unavoidable.

At the end of the day do any of us really want to be unhealthy? Most of us want to be fit. There is no fitness pill that has been invented that can do it for us and it is highly unlikely that there will ever be one. Medicine is reaching its peak of effectiveness and now it’s down to us as individuals, as parents as carers as part of the community to ensure that we maximise our own health outcomes to live a longer, healthier and happier life. The whole public health research and debate tells us that making small but consistent changes produces good and consistent outcomes.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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