Loose Women: Dr Hilary discusses how to live longer

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Not many actors alive today can say they starred in an Alfred Hitchcock movie. That’s just one of many achievements Shirley MacLaine can boast about. The 88-year-old’s acting career has spanned seven decades and she has lost none of her trademark zeal.

What’s the secret to the star’s vitality? In a recent interview, she provided a few clues.

Even while she unravelled the mystery, MacLaine’s humility shone through.

“Even though I tell people the truth, I’m not a diva,” she told Variety from her ranch in Santa Fe, N.M.

The star attributes her rude health in part to her early ballet training.

“I’ve got to go all the way back to that and just hard, honest work, with quite a bit of art, if you can muster it, thrown in.”

She continued: “I’ve also stayed in the business and never thought about quitting because I wanted to pay for plane tickets to travel.

“I didn’t socialise Hollywood style. I’d rather travel to a country I hadn’t been to. So when I think about my life, I’m not sure I wouldn’t put the travels a bit above show business.”

Evidence suggests MacLaine might be onto something.

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Older people who frequent art galleries and museums, attend the theatre and concerts may live longer than those who don’t, a 2020 study suggests.

Even after accounting for a wide range of other health and social factors, researchers from University College London found that people over 50 who regularly engaged with arts activities were 31 percent less likely to die during a 14-year follow-up than peers with no art in their lives.

Those who took part in arts-related activities only once or twice a year still had 14 percent lower odds of dying during the study.

“These findings support previous statistical analyses and anthropological work suggesting there may be benefits of the arts to individuals as they age,” said Daisy Fancourt, an associate professor of psychobiology and epidemiology at University College London and co-author of the study.

“It remains possible the association presented here could be the result of unidentified confounding factors, but it is promising that the association is maintained even when controlling for a wide range of socio-economic, demographic, health, social and behavioural factors,” Professor Fancourt told Reuters Health in an email at the time.

The study’s results are in line with previous research that suggested the arts may support longevity by improving mental health, enhancing social capital and reducing loneliness and sedentary behaviours, the authors noted in The BMJ.

“We show the same pattern in a larger sample followed-up for a longer period,” said Professor Fancourt.

The authors analysed data on a nationally-representative sample of 6,710 people who were 50 or older in 2002 when they joined a long-term ageing study. In 2004-5, participants were asked how often they engaged with the arts, as well as a host of questions about their habits, background, education, financial situation and social lives.

Using National Health Service records, researchers followed participants through 2018. By that time, nearly 30 percent had died.

Overall, men were more likely to die, as were unmarried people, those with less wealth and those not currently working.

Mortality was also higher among people with health conditions, including depressive symptoms, cancer and heart disease, the authors note.

Among those who died, 47.5 percent had said at the outset they never engaged in cultural activities, compared with 26.6 percent who had taken part in an art-related activity once or twice a year and 18.6 percent people who had engaged with the arts more frequently.

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