Journal / Ageing Well

From life span to health span

23 Apr, 2023

Over the last few weeks I’ve been dipping into a book that has been on my shelf for a while; ‘The Book About Getting Older: for people who don’t want to talk about it’, by Dr Lucy Pollock. It’s a fascinating and uplifting reflection on lessons learned caring for the very old and the urgent need society has to reframe how lifespan and healthspan are viewed. It talks to the conversations we need to have with those we love. But also on the tools and practices we can put in place to support ourselves in ageing well. After all, she writes - we are all ‘apprentice elderly’. And our likelihood of living to a very old age is much higher than we may think. The book starts with her favourite question to ask new medical students; At what age do you develop a less than even chance of living another year?

23 Apr, 2023

‘..they start guessing. Seventy? (The students are very young, and I correct them with a raised eyebrow.). Eighty-one, they venturing, knowing that this is the average life expectancy in the UK. I push them upwards. The figure is derived from UK census data, averaged across men and women..they guess again, but none get the answer. It is 104.’

The Book About Getting Older (for people who don’t want to talk about it), Dr Lucy Pollock

There is a little mathematical wizardry in this statement. The average age women most commonly die in the UK is 89. But the fact remains; if we’re lucky, as a generation of females, we will live long lives. 

Too often, in discussions about ageing, we’re uncomfortable with the thought of ‘being old’. It comes with connotations of long-term health issues, loneliness, a loss of purpose and status in society…becoming a ‘burden’ to those we love. And in menopause, our bodies seem to signal the ageing process almost over-night! We’re bombarded with facts about what we will now ‘lose’; bone density, cardiovascular health, energy, collagen…hair, sex drive.

Yet…how we age is largely in our hands. Menopause is not a disease, and our brilliant biology is designed to transition and adapt and thrive with lower sex hormones. This isn’t naive optimism. It’s based on deep research into the societies where centenarians are commonplace; and where a healthy lifespan matches a healthy lifespan. 

‘The Blue Zone’ is a collective term for 6 geographies where people lead long, fulfilled lives, naturally; Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Ikaria (Greece) and Loma Linda (California, US). Research across these communities has revealed that their success in cracking the ‘healthspan’ code is less about hard and fast ‘rules’, and more about simple principles rooted in nature and humanity;

    1. Sleep is critical for our wellbeing: People living in the blue zones are serious about getting adequate sleep every day, which is aligned with their slower pace of living. And in fact, research shows that short sleep duration (i.e. 5 hours or less) correlates with a 25% higher mortality risk at age 50, and a 40% higher chance of getting diagnosed with two or more chronic diseases.

    2. Social connections as medicine: Loneliness has been linked to a lowered immune system, increased stress hormones, poor sleep, as well as anxiety and depression. The good news is that research shows we have the power for change – a study also demonstrated that for every level of increase in social connection, there was a decrease in biomarkers for inflammation, blood pressure and mortality. Thus, community is indeed vital to our wellbeing

    3. Prioritise what we put on our plates:
      - Eat a big savoury breakfast
      - More beans please - they’re a healthy source of protein, deliver fibre, folate and a host of valuable vitamins
      - Snack on nuts - on average, nut-eaters live 2 to 3 years longer than non-nut-eaters (The Adventist Health Study 2)
      - Eat dinner early - avoid eating after 6 pm. Research also shows that fasting for 12+ hours is associated with longevity
      - Taste – the secret of sticking to a healthy diet starts with making your food taste good. Remember, herbs and spices count as one of the 30+ plants that researchers now believe we need to aim to fit into our everyday diets

What excites me most about The Blue Zones research is that the commonalities identified as critical for a long and healthy life can be adopted by all of us.

They are also principles that our co-community is built on. The nutritional insight informs our supplement formulations. The emphasis on connectivity, curiosity, purpose and the deep respect for wisdom mirrors all we hope to offer through our closed facebook group The Powder Room, our social channels and the content we share, in this newsletter, every week.

Because the other truth that lies at the heart of these cultures is that, in ensuring society recognises the value we bring as we age, everyone benefits. We’re needed. We have so much, collectively, to offer. The world is better with women of every age fully taking up the space they’ve earned. Now is always your time to shine. 


With love Rebekah and the MPowder team.

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