When Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders got chatting at the nursery gates, they realised they had more in common than the usual stresses and chaos that comes with being busy working mums.
Susan was in her mid-30s when she began caring for her mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, just as her mum had done with Susan’s gran.
As a young woman Annabel had a similar experience, having watched her mother nurse her gran through dementia.
Sharing their stories threw into stark focus that the friends were both at risk of developing the same ageing conditions as their parents and grandparents.
And so The Age-Well Project was born.
Annabel, a writer, and Susan, a TV producer, decided not to give in to ageing. So, for five years they immersed themselves in medical studies, overhauling their lives, and documenting their findings in a blog which became a book, out this month.
It tells the story of what they discovered and how they applied it to their busy lives as full-time workers, raising kids and caring for elderly parents.
Mum-of-four Annabel, 54, said: “After a decade of juggling endless pregnancies and miscarriages, six children and ten elderly parents and in-laws between us, not to mention hugely demanding work commitments, our own health had slipped to the bottom of the pile.
“What we realised is that there’s so much information out there – but it’s conflicting. It’s hard to know which advice to follow.
“So we started to go beyond the news reports and straight to the source to work out the new science for longevity.
“We wanted to be realistic, but a healthy lifestyle is so important, so we had to make changes that would work for us.
“We also found in the data that by 50, it’s not too late. At that time we were mid-late 40s so just in time to reconstruct our health.”
Annabel and Susan’s book has almost 100 health shortcuts, focusing on diet, exercise, social engagement and sleep.
“What works for some might not work for others,” admits Annabel. “But you need to find some way of incorporating it into your lifestyle. For me, that was installing a ‘walking desk’ at home – it’s like a treadmill with a desk over the top so I can exercise while I work. I also dance while I hoover and dust.
“Small changes can make a big difference.
“I feel fantastic, I’ve dropped a dress size or two and have so much energy. Susan feels exactly the same.
“We have so many older role models now to inspire us. Dame Helen Mirren is my ageing well heroine. She’s a strong woman with lots of confidence and she looks amazing. She’s definitely what we would call a Super Ager.
“How we experience our old age is our choice and we can choose to live a healthier, happier life. It’s taken us five years and we’re still learning. Progression, not perfection is our motto.”
The Age-Well Project, published by Trade Paperback, out now, £14.99
10 golden Age-Well rules…
Eat the rainbow
Think “colour” when you go to the supermarket – what can you pick up that will brighten your plate?
Experiment with new recipes using colourful fruit and vegetables.
Keep a bowl or freezer bag of pre-chopped vegetables – peppers, carrot sticks, cucumber – in the fridge for snacking or dipping.
Spice up your life
Herbs and spices have some of the highest concentration of antioxidants.
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and has been linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer and liver disease.
It’s also antiseptic, antibacterial and packed with antioxidants.
In India, where the spice is heavily consumed, fewer than one in 100 over-65s has Alzheimer’s, whereas in the UK the figure is one in 14.
Several studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption with reduced overall mortality.
A small regular drink may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, cognitive impairment/dementia and certain cancers, including colon, basal cell, ovarian and prostate.
The case for drinking coffee is also mounting. Studies suggest it could lower the risk of heart failure or stroke, help stave off Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s and halve the risk of prostate cancer.
Drink plenty of water and try green tea, which is a panacea for the world’s ailments.
Numerous reports suggest that grateful people experience fewer aches and pains, are happier and less depressed, sleep better, have lower blood pressure and better cholesterol.
Count your blessings, remind yourself of the things you’re grateful for. It’s likely to be a very long list.
According to the Royal College of GPs, the 1.2million Britons thought to be suffering from loneliness are 50% more likely to die prematurely, making loneliness as big a mortality risk as diabetes.
Meanwhile, other reports found cancer and heart attack patients with the largest number of friends made the best recoveries.
Grow your network. Volunteer, join a book group or a walking group, use social media to keep in touch and try not to eat alone.
Several studies have found a consistent link between frequent religious attendance and longevity.
In fact, studies have shown that those attending religious services had a 29% chance of living longer.
Rewire, don’t retire
Working longer will keep you younger so, if you enjoy it, keep going.
It brings not only daily challenges, but social interaction, opportunities for creativity and a sense of purpose.
And if you do retire, use your leisure time wisely – combine a bit of exercise, education, volunteering and other activities that extend both your mind and your network of friends.
Go to the land of Nod
Forty winks in the afternoon could slow down your cognitive decline.
A study found people napping five to seven days a week had sustained attention, better non-verbal reasoning ability and improved spatial memory.
Nappers were also found to sleep better at night, have less stress, boosted immunity – and brains performing as if they were five years younger.
Shake your booty
When it comes to fending off cognitive decline, dancing is the queen bee of exercise.
You need a programme that works the brain as hard as the body. This means regularly learning new steps and routines: ballroom dancing, modern dance, Scottish dancing, line dancing, Zumba, jazz and disco all fit the bill.
Research has concluded that dance can reduce the risk of dementia by 76% and other studies have found Scottish dancing to reduce age-related decline in women over the age of 70.
Look after your teeth
Looking after your teeth and gums might be one of the smartest things you can do to age well.
Those of us with a full set of pearly whites at the age of 74 are much more likely to make it to 100.
Our mouths are home to more than 700 species of bacteria, which hide and multiply beneath our gums where regular brushing can’t reach.
Experts believe gum disease might be a trigger for pancreatic cancer, as well as heart disease and diabetes.
It’s been linked to dementia, obesity and even poor sleep – but you can combat it by flossing, using an electric toothbrush, and regular visits to the dentist.