The BBC programme ‘How to stay young’ was carried out with scientists at Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing. I am a researcher at the university, mainly focusing on how we can use diet and exercise to improve health and disease. My role in the programme, was lead scientist along with Professor Mike Trenell. We took 9 contestants from around the country who were considered to have an unhealthy lifestyle, measured their body age, then put them on a 12 week programme to try and improve their body age.
Our birth age and body age can be different, and around two thirds of UK adults will have a body age higher than their birth age due to living an unhealthy lifestyle. Body age was determined by measuring cardio-respiratory fitness. This is measured during a exercise test and gives us a good idea of how well the heart, lungs and muscles are working. All of the contestants had a body age that was higher than their birth age, and most of them were shocked at this. The challenge was whether we could reduce this in 12 weeks!
Using the changing health phone app, each contestant was given a lifestyle coach who would tailor diet and exercise advice to help them lead a healthier life. In general, this involved reducing sugar in the diet and encouraging individuals to adopt a Mediterranean style approach, and some even followed the low-calorie diet (800kcal per day). High intensity interval exercise was a commonly used technique to get contestants more active, this involves short bursts of intense exercise to raise heart rate and improve fitness. Contestants were also given additional sleep advice, and asked to learn new skills such as drumming or art to help with memory.
I coached 3 of the contestants over the 12 weeks, and it was quite a journey. There were challenges along the way, but each one of them was motivated and committed to improve their body age. It was an absolute joy to see the contestants make healthy lifestyle changes, and the final results day was a particular highlight for all of the coaches who had worked alongside the contestants. It was a wonderful experience for me to be part of this programme, and to see how science and media can work together to present a powerful message to the public-that living a healthy lifestyle is very important for healthy ageing!
The programme will be run over 3 weeks (13th, 20th and 27th of September) on BBC 1, 9pm. If you’ve missed the programme you should be able to catch it on BBC iPlayer, happy watching!