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Is this the secret to a long life?

Red wine is good for you. Don’t drink alcohol. Cut down on fat. Eat good fats. There’s lots of confusing advice out there about how to increase your chances of living a long and healthy life.

The Longevity List is a new book that explores the common wisdom many of us adhere to in the hopes of improving our health, and whether or not adages like ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’ have any basis in fact.

“One of the reasons I decided to write this book is that often people come to me and ask about their health, and it dawned on me that it is really important to focus on what people do every single day and what they think is good and what they think is bad,” Dr Merlin Thomas, author of The Longevity List, says.

“I asked as many people as I could to give me the 10 things they do each day that they know are bad for their health. This book runs down the list of those things from eating too much chocolate, to drinking too much coffee, to not exercising enough. I look at those things and ask, quantitatively, will they make a difference to your life expectancy?”

The answers, you will be glad to know, are not as dire as conventional wisdom might have you believe.

Let’s look at chocolate, for example. While Dr Thomas acknowledges that too much chocolate does contribute to weight gain, and that weight gain can have an adverse effect on your health, the secret to health and longevity (and, let’s face it, happiness) is making room for the things you enjoy.

“There’s actually not a lot of evidence that chocolate is bad for you,” Dr Thomas says. “It’s a rewarding experience and that’s a good thing. Too much is bad for your waistline, yes, but once you recognise that, you realise it’s not the chocolate that’s the problem, it’s how you consume it. The important thing is to enjoy chocolate as part of a normal, healthy diet.” 

It’s the same with alcohol, Dr Thomas argues. “It all depends how much you drink. The problem with wine, in particular, is that it comes in big bottles. It’s difficult to have just one glass and leave it at that.

“A single glass of red wine with a meal is all you need and the data shows that people who can have that single glass of wine a day actually have better health outcomes than those who don’t drink at all. Now there are many potential factors that influence this data, but the point is that it is within our power to make use of the things we love.

“I enjoy wine and I make an effort to buy expensive wine. In the end I drink less and save money because I enjoy it more. The trick is to find value in the things you do and enjoy them thoroughly. 

So what’s the biggest health myth Dr Thomas would like to see debunked?

“The biggest myth is that there is nothing you can do. A lot of people have a fatalistic attitude towards their health. They believe they were born with a certain set of genes and certain likes and dislikes, and there’s nothing they can do.

“In fact, for every disease there is a combination of three factors: there’s fate, so what you were born with and what you can’t control. There’s karma, which is your actions. And the third element is luck.” 

The Longevity List is a starting point to separating the fact from the fiction when it comes to health, and knowing what you can do to increase your chances of living healthy and happily.