Revealed: Why two glasses of wine and 15 minutes of exercise a day is the key to a long life

Sarah Knapton
Wine is said to be an important ingredient in the recipe for healthy ageing

The recipe for a long life includes exercising for 15 minutes a day, spending two hours on hobbies and enjoying a couple of glasses of wine, according to an ageing expert.

Dr Claudia Kawas, of the University of California, who has spent 15 years studying people aged over 90, also recommended keeping weight down and drinking two cups of coffee a day.

She also advised getting outside of the house and talking to strangers, rather than sitting doing crosswords or Sudoku. 

"People should try to incorporate as many of these things into their day if they wish to give themselves the best chance of living to a ripe age," she told the AAAS annual meeting in Austin, Texas

"The more people outside of your own household you speak to any given month will lower your risk [of dying] "For a while it was always crosswords and Sudoku. They are good when you first do them. But after a while and you have done 100 million of them, and you know all the two and three letter words, it’s not such a big thing to do it.

"The benefit was using your brain. People think using your brain is solving a puzzle , but when you are just getting out and interacting with people, you are using your brain a lot."

However new research is also suggesting that genetics may play a large part in keeping an active mind in later life. 


In separate research, scientists found that 'age-proof' brain cells may allow people to grow old without losing their memory.

Scientists at Northerwestern University, in Chicago, have been studying 31 over-80s whose memory  is at least as good as people in their 50s and 60s. 

Usually as people age, the folds of the brain, known as the cerebral cortex, becomes thinner over time. But the team found that in super-agers there was no difference from younger people. 

And, crucially in one area of the brain, the anterior cingulate, super-agers had up to five times more 'Von Economo' neurons, special giant brain cells which are thought to boost social behaviour, and which are often missing in people with autism or bi-polar disorder.

Intriguingly the 'super-agers' were also found to be more extrovert, valuing social interaction and friendships more highly than people of a similar age who had aged normally. 

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Dr Emily Rogalski, research associate professor at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Centre at Northwestern said: "I don’t know that it is the only factor, but it is an interesting lead. 

"It’s not entirely known (what the 'Von Economo' neurons do) but because of their size it gives the opportunity to transmit information over long distances.

"There is a thought that they may play some role in social functioning and that comes largely from this idea that there is this loss of abnormal development in autism or bi-polar disorder and behaviorally frontotemporal dementia.

"When we look at the super-agers there is more in the 'Von Economo' in the anterior cingulate compared to their cognitively average peers, four to five times more. There are even more 'Von Economo' neurons in the superagers than people in their 20s."

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The fact that the special neurons were found in such great numbers in the anterior circulate specifically may also offer a clue to how the 'super-agers' retain their excellent memories, researchers believe.

"One thing the anterior cingulate is thought to be important for is attention and working memory," added Dr Rogalski.

"We know you have to pay attention to things in order to remember them, so it’s possible that super-agers are able to maintain outstanding memory performance in part because they have really good attention.

"It's not so long ago that we thought the only trajectory there was, was to get old and senile. We need to push the envelope and see what is possible in older age and how did they get there."

Positive thinking

The researchers also believe that a positive attitude, and resilience are also crucial to keeping the mind and memory sharp in old age. 

Many of the over-80s in the study had suffered hardships such as the holocaust, or the loss of children, yet had appeared to 'bounce back' and maintain an upbeat outlook. 

And many were able to maintain their physical and mental health despite drinking and smoking. 

"I think it is good for people to hear that the super-agers aren’t indivudals who have led this pristine life," added Dr Rogalski. "There is nothing to say that they became super-agers on the same path. 

"There could have been two or more paths to getting there. For some maybe genetics plays a stronger role in getting there people that allowed them to smoke and drink and do all of those things isn’t good for our body because they have a genetic composition that tolerated that where other individuals it was very important that they exercised a lot and ate the right foods.

 "I think this theme of resilience is an important one, when we think about how we face lifes challenges so we all have the opportunity when we encounter a challenge to move beyond and to figure out how to keep moving forward or to pause and get stuck there and it seems that superagers figure out how to move forward, so they are going to bounce back from whatever stress they encounter."

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