Stay healthy in 2009 (in 10 easy steps)

1 Expect a long life

“If I had known I was going to live this long I’d have taken better care of myself.” It’s a quip attributed to, among others, Mark Twain, Jimmy Durante and George Burns – and one reason it’s so popular is that there’s truth in it. Burns cracked that joke on his 99th birthday but, for most of us, wondering how long we’ve got to live is no longer the key question, at least not for affluent westerners, whose life expectancy has risen steadily.

What people should be asking themselves instead, says Phil Hanlon, professor of public health at Glasgow university, is how long they will live free from chronic disease or disability, free from morbid obesity or otherwise limited in our mobility. “If we want to live healthy and long lives, then we need to begin from the earliest age to preserve our healthy physiology,” says Hanlon.

His first prescription is brief: live simply. “One of the important things emerging from the new science of wellbeing – see the work of Felicia A. Huppert, for example – is that if you voluntarily decide to live more simply, then you tend to be happier.” We should try to minimise our commutes, maintain a sensible work-life balance and, hardly music to Alistair Darling’s ears, reduce the quantity of things we buy – maintaining what he calls “less stuff in our lives”.

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