Weight loss: Professor Sir Chris Whitty advocates "old-fashioned" health tips to keep in shape

His methods include eating more fruit and veg, and moderating how much alcohol you drink.

Professor Sir Chris Whitty arrives in Downing Street, London. (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.)Professor Sir Chris Whitty arrives in Downing Street, London. (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.)
Professor Sir Chris Whitty arrives in Downing Street, London. (Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.)

People should adopt “old-fashioned” methods to stay healthy as they get older because falling sick is not inevitable, England’s most senior doctor has said.

Professor Sir Chris Whitty called on people to take responsibility for their own health with good diet and exercise, while calling on the Government to do more to make healthy lives the norm. People are living longer and, by 2050, a quarter of those in the UK will be over 65, but Sir Chris argued it should not be accepted that these extra years will be spent in ill health.

Research shows that people become less active as they get older, with a third of 75 to 85-year-olds and 57 per cent of people aged 85 and over being physically inactive. Publishing his annual report, Health in an Ageing Society, Sir Chris said smoking rates are dropping and alcohol intake is falling in some groups, but “obesity is going in the wrong direction”.

He suggested people should turn to methods that are known to work, saying: “There are a lot of things people can do themselves which will delay the point where they first have disability and then multi-morbidity. They are old-fashioned things, actually.

“Having lots of exercise, having mental stimulation and a social network, eating a reasonably balanced diet (with) not too much high fat, sugar and salt, moderating alcohol, stopping smoking if you do – these are things which are old fashioned, but they still work.”

He said maintaining exercise for the longest possible time, for example, was known to have a “huge positive impact on both physical and mental health in old age”, while eating plenty of fruit and veg cuts the risk of high blood pressure, chronic heart disease and stroke. His report further pointed to strong evidence “that being physically active, eating a healthy, balanced diet, not smoking and moderating alcohol consumption improves health outcomes and increases the proportion of life spent in good health”.

The report said it is “possible to compress the period of ill health” people suffer by delaying the point at which they fall ill – and in some cases so they never get a disease before dying. As well as making it easy to exercise, the report said: “Reducing smoking, air pollution and exposure to environments that promote obesity are other examples where the state has a major role to play in delaying or preventing ill health and disability over a lifetime and into older age.”

The study argued that the types of food people buy and eat “are strongly influenced by the food industry and the environments in which we live”. It pointed to a rise in the availability of foods high in fat, salt and sugar, while places such as takeaways sell “large portion sizes of high-calorie foods”.

Government action may include changing these environments, restricting the promotion of high fat, salt and sugar products and using the planning system “to restrict the concentration of hot food takeaways in an area”.

Sir Chris Whitty's "old-fashioned" health tips

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables as part of a balanced diet

Stay physically active

Cut down on cigarettes and alcohol

Avoid takeaways that serve "large portion sizes"

Reducing exposure to air pollution

Elsewhere in the report, Sir Chris said older people suffer when homes, public buildings and towns are poorly planned.

He suggested art galleries and libraries could have grab rails or ramps to help people move around, while pavements and cycle lanes should be accessible with even surfaces “because the key thing people want is independence”. Environmental factors that can negatively impact on health also include poor or cold housing and air pollution, he added.

The report also examined the areas where people live, showing that the “great majority” of people move out of cities and large towns before old age, shifting to coastal and semi-rural areas “often with relatively sparse services and transport links”.

As a result, “Manchester, Birmingham and London will age very slowly but areas such as Scarborough, North Norfolk or the south coast are going to age rapidly and predictably”. Providing services suitable for older people in these areas, including NHS care and social services, should therefore be “an absolute priority”, the report said.

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