Dr Mark Cobain, 49, is the co-founder of Younger Lives.
Having spent 20+ years in academic and industrial research related to health and wellbeing, I began to realise the wealth of knowledge I has amassed on ‘healthy ageing’ had not touched me personally. I had spent years analysing data from thousands of participants of long term studies, finding out what healthy people had in common as they aged. I also spent the same amount of time as a psychologist identifying what made some people more likely to motivate themselves to make lifestyle changes that would last for ever.
Throughout this time, even with all my knowledge I felt like it all applied to other people but not to me. It was a bit like your doctor who tells you to stop smoking but smokes himself.
One day I knew I had come to a crossroad in my life. Whilst I had helped many people change their lives for the better, I needed to take what I had learnt to the next level and feel the impact personally.
Having created the original Heart Age concept and working for many years on it with Holly, we knew that it's power came from people not wanting to be older than their real age. This insight wasn't just relevant to heart health but in fact to everything spanning health, happiness, energy and mental wellbeing. Why restrict ourselves to hearts?! The time had come to evolve what we knew into a much larger and overarching concept - Younger Lives.
We revisited earlier work we had done on ‘Healthy Ageing’ – the idea that people age at different rates and that the majority of that was due to their lifestyles. You could in fact look and ‘be’ younger than your birth date! We knew already that decades of research had shown us the factors that made some people age well or stay young and others not. We just needed to revisit that forgotten data and reconnect with the large network of friends we had in universities around the world to see if they were interested in helping us to bring all the pieces together again.
Most importantly, I began to realise that I also needed to implement these changes in my own life again, but this time FOR GOOD. I knew the research and I’d also developed programs that had worked for other people. People JUST LIKE ME! How could this be? How could I have helped others while not doing it myself. Previously I had tried to solve my health issues by just running more or going on a diet, but my efforts would be short lived. When things were difficult emotionally, I would slowly but surely increase my alcohol intake until I was drinking too much in the evenings without realising it, which made me snack more and then sleep badly, sabotaging my desire to run the next day. So on it went….until I admitted to myself and others that it was a problem.
After much soul searching I realised that there was one thing that made all the difference in those people who had succeeded. They were really motivated deep inside to begin with. It’s this deep level of motivation that separates those who make the changes from those who don’t. I needed to grow what we psychologists call ‘intrinsic motivation’ (wanting to change from deep within) rather than ‘extrinsic’ motivation (wanting to change for other reasons – cosmetic reasons, doing it for other people, financial rewards etc).
So where did this motivation come from? Well, I realised that this was my last chance. I’m at an age where I know I need to make changes. My father developed type-2 diabetes about 12 years older than I am today. I’ve seen his health suffer as a result and I want to live a happy and long life. But it wasn’t just this though. I had always noticed that when I ran (which was always my favourite exercise) I was happier and more ‘in control’ of my life. Coupling that to healthy eating, good sleep and being less stressed made life just ‘flow’ much better. I wanted that and its helped me through a difficult period of my life with changes in my relationships, family and work life. I need that strength and energy, that happiness to make life worth living.
It’s not always easy. There are times that I slip back and when I’m stressed and lose my routine I go back to old habits. However, what’s really important is how long it takes to get back to a good place. I get back on quickly. My motivation is stronger than before and I don’t want to slip back for good.
As we researched the link between health and happiness (which is the foundation of this Younger Lives program) I began to feel deep disappointment at the cynicism amongst my scientist peers about the field of ‘happiness’. Yes there’s a lot of ‘flaky’ self-appointed gurus out there that have no training or grounding in science, and yes, just trying to be happy without looking after your physical health isn’t the answer to living longer. However….
Isn’t it just obvious that we want to be both healthy and happy? It’s not just about performing meditation or living a hedonistic lifestyle. It’s about helping us align our meaning in life with the motivation to look after ourselves so that we can be around for longer to fulfil our ambitions. It’s THIS message that helps me feel better today and I know it will help me maintain my health and happiness into the future.
You will see as you read through the Younger Lives program, that we know that happiness leads to health, and health leads to more happiness, and therefore all these elements are important. The good news is that the science backs that up and for me the even better news is that finally I’m taking notice.
We inspire people to 'live a younger life' and adopt behaviours that result in healthier, happier and more fulfilling lives.Dr Mark Cobain