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Agile Ageing – Tap into the Fountain of Youth and Transform Your Life

We live in an agile world. The smartest companies – especially in the fast moving tech sector – are using agile methodologies to achieve productivity gains by becoming highly responsive to customer demands.

This trend can also be found in the Quantified Self movement. Ironically, the appeal of self-knowledge through self-tracking was originally lost on me. Yet here I am in 2016 enjoying a small thrill whenever my Apple watch says I've achieved my daily movement goal.

Which got me thinking. Social scientists are highlighting how people of all ages are actively "domesticating" digital technologies to make them more meaningful in our lives. In parallel, a growing body of research is quantifying the benefits of a healthy, active and creative lifestyle. Is it possible to interpret this emerging evidence base to validate a formula for agile ageing?

How old is old?

Let's start with the supposition that age is a state of mind. According to World Health Organization Director Dr Margaret Chan: "There is no 'typical' older person. The resulting diversity in the capacities and health needs of older people is not random, but rooted in events throughout the life course that can often be modified."

Furthermore, "It only requires a relatively modest adjustment to our lifestyles to dramatically improve and extend our quality of life."

A recent study by Cambridge University, claims healthier lifestyles and better education improve mental health, reducing the risk of developing dementia by 22%.

This view is reinforced by the Alzheimer Society's CEO Jeremy Hughes: " Regular exercise, low alcohol consumption and not smoking, considerably reduces the risk of developing vascular dementia."

If you are concerned the only safe bet is a dull life, think again. The University of Reading reports that those that drank the equivalent of a glass and a half of wine a day, had a substantially lower risk of dementia and particularly of Alzheimer's than teetotallers.

And stay social if you want to live longer. Researchers from the University of Queensland, found that risk of death rose by 12% if a person belonging to two social groups before retirement left both groups within six years.

Everyday creativity

At CSL we love The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. In it Ruth Richards asks: "Would we humans value everyday creativity more if we knew it could improve our physical and psychological health, boost our immune function, and give us greater life satisfaction and meaning? Creative activity of many types is relevant to successful ageing, greater acceptance of one's situation and finding purpose."

As evidence, The Handbook references a study involving 12,000 people in Sweden comparing those who attended creative events, and/or visited museums and galleries, with those who were less culturally active. The conclusion: those more active, involved, and artistically aware, lived longer.

And there are economic benefits. A recent Times headline claims that; " Prescribing yoga and arts classes on the NHS is money well spent." GP's in Rotherham are directing patients to activities such as yoga, fitness classes or the arts. According to analysis by Sheffield Hallam University, were the programme to continue for five years the NHS would save twice as much as it spent by reducing A&E visits, hospital stays and GP appointments.

Lively living

If you are still alive and fit at 93 you might as well do something with your time. Reporting on Jun Takenashi, the world's oldest commercial pilot who still takes his Cesna on joyrides round Mt Fuji, The Times says: "Japan now boasts more than 61,000 centurions, four times as many as Britain, and a whole new class of super-geriatrics who insist on lively living well into their nineties, skiing, climbing, sprinting or saving younger lives as lifeguards, Greywatch anyone?"

So, healthy and active lifestyles are not only extending, but improving quality of life. And, the icing on the cake: Japan's per capita healthcare bill for super-geriatrics, is less than a third of the level in the USA.

Even the French agree. Reporting this month in LE POINT, editor Sophie Bartczak, says that our memory meets the capacity of the entire web, 1 million billion bytes and that our brain possesses the 'fountain of youth' able to produce new neurons throughout our lives, provided they are used!

Sophie concludes: "By changing our habits, we can keep at bay the risk of stroke or depression and delay the onset of dementia by 5 to 10 years. Moving more reduces risk by at least 35%. Adopting a Mediterranean diet? At least 40%. Practicing a complex, creative mental activity, reduces risk by at least 46%. But most of all, we support the evolution of our brain through our social interactions and by giving meaning to our lives."

So, there you go, I believe we have international consensus: Take one healthy, social lifestyle, add a dose of exercise, a pinch of creativity and a drop of wine, mix to taste and what do you get?

Well, according to Public Health England; people who reach 65, stop smoking, get more active and eat better, can look forward to living for another 19 to 21 years…

If that's not a formula for agile ageing, I don't know what is.

Image by Oleksii Kudla, with permission for use.