Live Younger Longer?

So You Want to Live Younger Longer?

Dr Norman Swan

Hachette 307pp

Book Review by Robin Osborne 

Perhaps the indefatigable Dr Norman Swan rarely sleeps, for here he is again, amidst his hosting of ABC Radio National’s The Health Report and co-hosting the Coronacast podcast, with a follow-up to last year’s So You Think You Know What’s Good For You?, also reviewed on these pages. 

The telling question mark at the end of both titles may well produce a different answer. 

In the case of this book that is likely to be a resounding yes, given the known links between longevity and morbidity. Who doesn’t want to keep well in later life? 

While most might also answer in the affirmative to the question posed by the first book, the fact is that much of what we think we know is likely to be wrong. That book sought to set us straight while this one goes even further. 

Boldly sub-titled “The ultimate guide to longevity from Australia’s most trusted doctor”, Dr Swan’s latest effort is another roadmap to healthier living, ranging from exercise and good eating to stopping smoking, having the right medications, being immunised, managing stress, looking after the brain, avoiding pollution, and more. 

As he puts it, “The bottom line… is that how and where you live count for a lot.” 

Exploring the global context, he explains that a nation’s wealth can be less a driver of wellbeing than factors such as education: ‘It’s been estimated [in India, for example] that a 10 per cent gain in the level of literacy has four times the effect on extra years of life expectancy than a 10 per cent gain in national income.” 

Our unconscious life is another key to better health, which means getting enough of the right kind of sleep. One only hopes the good doctor does! 

Too little or too much has been associated with dying prematurely from several causes, Dr Swan writes, with the ‘Goldilocks spot’ being around seven hours a night, although this assumes a good quality of sleep which in turn depends on various factors, for example the quantity and times of evening meals, larger and later ones not being advisable.

‘When it comes to living younger longer, research suggests that being a morning person is better, which is tough news for evening people and night-owls because your chronotype is hard to change.’ 

Night-owls, for instance, have been found to experience a higher rate of diabetes and heart disease, with more chronic illnesses and psychological issues and about a 10 per cent increased risk of dying from any cause. 

Encouragingly the importance of having a trusted and liked GP is key advice for everyone from their 20s onwards, although he cautions against having annual check-ups for their own sake, adding there’s little if any evidence that they make a difference and can actually have potential for harm.

One piece of advice that may seldom pass a GP’s lips is to “keep your bullshit meter on high alert”. For example, money spent on anti-ageing supplements might be better used buying a Mediterranean cookbook or taking guitar lessons to expand the brain: ‘Harder work than swallowing a pill but far more likely to have an effect.’ 

This neatly sums up the book - living longer while maintaining reasonable health may entail considerable effort but the payoff is likely to be feeling, if not actually being, younger in years.