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How Long Will You Live?
How Long Will You Live? Revisited RTÉ One, Tuesday 8.30pm

Webchat with Dr Mark Hamilton

With the current series of 'How Long Will You Live?' drawing to a close on Wednesday 21 February, presenter Dr Mark Hamilton was online to discuss health and lifestyle issues.

Mark: Hello everyone. Thanks for joining us. Today is a general guideline on health but should not be regarded as a substitute for a proper consultation with your doctor.

Marie: Psychologically how will it affect a person when they reach the estimated ages you have given them?
Mark: Hi Marie. I think it really depends on which lifestyle they have chosen in the end - the unhealthy one or the healthy one. And if they reach the upper age and have chosen the healthy one they should feel very positive. If they've chosen the unhealthy one they may start to feel a little apprehensive.

Rutiger: Does an extremely active lifestyle compensate somewhat for indulgences of the food and drink variety?
Mark: Yes, it does. That's part of the reason why I don't concentrate too much on details and it's more overall trends because I would hate people to be living longer but more miserably. It's good for your mental health to let loose every now and again. The body is very forgiving as long as you give it the opportunity to heal. I like the expression "everything in moderation, including moderation".

Martin: Mark, I have just had a Calcium CT scan and have a score of 55 - so I have to have a cardio angiograph? I'm 36 and my father had a stroke at 39 (but is fine). I'm trying to change my eating and exercise habits but is there anything further I can do to help this?
Mark: From your point of view the only main things that you can change ARE diet and exercise. But the changes that you can make by adjusting these can be significant.

Joe: At the start of your programme the person is put through comprehensive tests to identify their current health condition. How do I go about getting the complete tests carried out? I am 33 years of age, have a pretty stressful job, travel quite a bit and try to fit in soccer and Gaelic football.
Mark: Hi Joe. I would always recommend that the tests are carried out in conjunction with your own doctor. I think the information without the explanation can be potentially hazardous. But the tests are widely available from most hospitals up and down the country, but they can be expensive.

Pat: Hi, back in September I was tested for cholesterol and it was 6.4.....4.6 LDL. This was a shock to me as I am 29! I changed my lifestyle and got it back to 4.85 when I was tested a few weeks ago. How will this affect the length of my life?
Mark: Hi Pat. The fact that you have done something about it suggests that you should have a normal if not better than average life expectancy as long as the new lifestyle continues. Most of our contributors had a few potential health problems which they then corrected and their new life expectancies were calculated from the new lifestyle.

Finn: Mark, congrats on a great show. The programme has made me very health conscious over the last few weeks. Do you have a website or contact that could provide info for creating a personal health plan as per your show?
Mark: Thank you very much for the compliment. The website is a great idea. I had a health-based online encyclopaedia which I may resurrect again. But I've so much going on at the minute that I haven't had any time.

Shane: Hi Mark. I currently run around 7km most evenings a week. This is all low intensity stuff, 130 to 150 heart rate. What form of organised exercise would you recommend to mix this up a little? I used to play five-a-side but because of a change of job this is no longer possible. Thanks.
Mark: Ideally anything that keeps your motivation up i.e. something which you enjoy. Any form of team sport. I personally like martial arts but nowadays there is a much wider choice with things like mountain biking, snowboarding, surfing and other more extreme sports. The main point is that you enjoy it, which means you will be able to keep it up.

Sarah: Do you ever eat things that aren't any good for you? And do you feel guilty?
Mark: Yes, I do eat stuff which may be regarded as not the best for me. But I feel it's a bad diet that you would have and that there's no such thing as bad food. I will tend to balance with healthier food if I eat rubbish. And I don't feel guilty!

Maria: Can you please advise? I go to the gym three times a week and have a healthy enough diet. Although in the summer I was 8 stone 13lbs, I'm now 9 stone 3lbs. I missed out on the gym for two months during that time and ate as I normally would. I find I'm not losing anything even while in the gym. What am I doing wrong?
Mark: It's difficult to gauge how significant this weight increase is as I don't know how tall you are, but it doesn't sound particularly large. And I imagine you're probably not doing anything wrong, if you're still exercising and eating well how could I criticise or improve on that? I always feel it's better to not focus too much on details such as small increases in weight because that can stifle your spirit. And life's a marathon not a sprint. So you need all the spirit you can get!

Gra M: Hi, I suffer from psoriasis which seems to be aggravated by lots of different things, namely stress, alcohol etc. I'm currently using steroid based creams to help but that only seems to reduce the redness as opposed to get to the core problem. How can I control it over the long term minus steroids?
Mark: Apart from regular consultation with your dermatologist the main thing that you can affect is your lifestyle, in particular the stress levels. Anything you can do to actively relax, such as meditation or yoga or just having some time away from it all on a regular basis is going to maintain a healthier stress level for you, and in turn hopefully influence your psoriasis. The alcohol side of things should again be in moderation and spread out over the week. Even doing all this though, sometimes psoriasis can be unpredictable.

Martin: I find myself constantly tired - not withstanding having two small daughters. Any suggestions for overcoming this? Great show by the way and it's great to see a fellow Northerner having success.
Mark: Thank you for the kind praise! I have two young kids myself and I know what you mean about the regular tiredness. I find getting regular exercise, eating at the right times and the right stuff, getting a few early nights and having regular time for myself helps keep this to a minimum. I would also suggest that if the tiredness persists and you feel you are doing all you can then do see your doctor in case there's something else that needs to be investigated.

Aisling: Should you exercise regularly or does it matter?
Mark: RRegular exercise helps you maintain a steady and healthy weight. It keeps your muscles and bones strong. It keeps your heart and lungs in good working condition. It helps digestion and strengthens the immune system. It has been proven to combat depression and helps maintain a good mental health. It can be a great social outlet as well as an opportunity to compete. And it can help you live a long, healthy life too. If none of this is important to you then no, it doesn't matter! :)

Michael: Hi. I'm 29 and I've been a Type One diabetic for 22 years and last month I was also diagnosed with Crohn's disease in the small bowel (yet another wonderful chronic disease). Anyway, can you recommend any specific diet that I could follow that might lessen the chances of complications?
Mark: Hi Michael. The only specific diets I advocate are those recommended by the medical professions which have been researched and proven to work. It generally involves getting the right balance of all the major food groups, including five portions of fruit and vegetables. I am always wary of new diets that make fantastic claims until they have research to show that they work. And I would advise that you use the same caution. Crohn's and Diabetes can be difficult to manage so please follow all the best guidance from your specialists.

Paul Reidy: I'm currently a Leaving Cert student considering becoming a doctor. May I ask when did you decide that you wanted to become a doctor?
Mark: Hi Paul. I did work experience in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. I saw a soldier who had just been shot coming in to Accident and Emergency. I saw the team going to work on him and I thought I'd like to do that. But from a very early age I've always been interested in how things work, not just the human body but machines as well. Which is why I am a trainee mechanic on the side as well! I figure that every day should be an opportunity to learn something. Good luck in whatever career you choose.

Geraldine: Hi Mark, I work shift work as does my partner. We also have a one-year-old and are forced to work opposite shifts to each other, leaving us with between three to five hours sleep, two to three nights per week and six to eight hours the remainder. What overall impact is this having on our health?
Mark: Unfortunately shift workers do have a higher risk for cardiovascular (heart) disease. I would also be concerned about the impact on your relationship. I understand that it's not just an easy case of packing in one job and moving on, so whatever you can do to eat well, exercise and spend quality time with your family is going to help minimise the potential damage from your work pattern.

Alex Buhl: I started circle training recently and am supposed to do it three times a week. Does it make a difference if I go to the training three days in a row or would it be better to split it during the week i.e. Monday, Wednesday, Friday?
Mark: It's much better to spread out the exercise to allow your muscles to repair and grow. And it maintains a better overall and consistent level of fitness (although three days in a row is not specifically harmful).

John Joe: II am 5 foot 9'' and weigh 18.5 stone. I rarely exercise as I work shifts which leave me tired. When eating I never feel full and as a result suffer from either constipation, which I often take laxatives for, or diarrhoea. What can I do to overcome this rut I'm stuck in?
Mark: Hi John Joe. The first major hurdle to overcome is the mental inertia which is stopping you making time to exercise and stopping you from sourcing better quality food. Once you take that first step it will hopefully become easier to make activity more a part of your life, i.e. habit. But most people struggle with that first step. Crappy food of low nutritional value often leaves people feeling unsatisfied and has been shown to be addictive also. There are so many reasons to make this change and I wish you good luck. A good example of how this can be done by someone who was in a similar situation is the programme on Gary Rooney, which you can watch on the website.

Teresa M: I've just turned 50 and for many years now I crave sugar, chocolate etc. I'm overweight but I exercise - love walking and mountaineering and do both regularly. Cannot pass a sweet shop. I never feel hungry so please help. Would love to get to root of problem. Thank you. Love your programme.
Mark: It may be helpful if you begin to regard the sugary foods you crave as more of an addiction. It has been shown that the same area of the brain is stimulated in those who love a sugar rush and those who are addicted to heroin. I struggled for quite some time to give up cigarettes and there's no secret way to do it, you just have to do it. It's an internal battle in the mind. There's no problem with sweet stuff every now and again, but every good thing is a bad thing in excess.

Sinead: I am a vegetarian. I love fruit and vegetables, wholemeal etc but don't think I get a balanced diet. I tend not to eat nuts, pulses and think I may lack Vitamin B's. Can you suggest anything to help balance the diet?
Mark: It's very important that you research this fully because it is easier for vegetarians to miss out on essential amino acids (building blocks for protein) and other nutritional necessities which are readily found in meat products. However, this can easily be remedied without compromising your vegetarian ethos. There are many ways of doing it, so that's why I recommend you discover it all so that you can have wider and more varied options to your diet.

Michael: What is the single most important thing that a person can do to improve their health?
Mark: The single most important thing you can do to improve your health is stop smoking - if you smoke! Apart from that, for non-smokers the most important thing is to enjoy whatever measures you take to improve your health because that is the thing that will keep you going and make it long term rather than a flash in the pan, temporary fad. Delighted that so many people have taken the time to log on today. I'm sorry I can't answer all your questions but I'm actually doing more work this afternoon on a revisit of the people from Series One to see if 18 months later the changes people made have stuck. That will be shown in the summer.

RTÉ.ie reserves the right to decide which questions submitted will be published and it also reserves the right to edit all questions before publication.