Several years ago, having nearly been killed by an avalanche of newspapers and magazines with articles that I ‘must read sometime before I die’ tumbling out of a press, I decided to stop the lunacy of keeping entire publications. Instead, if I found something interesting and didn’t have the time to read it there and then, I would tear it out and stash it in a ‘must read sometime before I die’ folder. It’s definitely space preserving and a lot less lethal.

The problem is my interest is often peaked by such a wide variety of things that the folder has become a hodge podge of much fascinating but pretty useless information. Do I need to know the secrets of the Bermuda Triangle? Probably not. If I ever do fly over the Bermuda triangle and get sucked in my knowledge of the phenomenon won’t be of any help at all. What about the article on how to get rid of cat smells? I don’t even have a cat. Wealth Management, a How To! That’s hilarious. God alone knows what I was thinking when I snipped that out.

This innocent looking folder with its piles of seemingly innocuous information is, in fact, an insight into my own strangeness. On the other hand I refuse to stop doing this as, occasionally, when the folder gets to breaking point, I’ll pull it out, prune it down and spend several happy hours indulging my weirdness and gaining much useless knowledge.

Last Saturday during one such happy foray into the folder I came across a questionnaire on lifestyle that claimed to determine how long you would live based on your answers. It was developed by a university professor a few years ago. The professor himself comes with some good credentials having served on two US government commissions investigating ageing. He believes that lifestyle impacts longevity more than good genes. You wouldn’t have to be a professor to work that one out. Try smoking 80 fags a day, eating yourself to obesity without any physical exercise and add lots of stress and, yes, you will definitely cut short your tenure on the planet. Most of us aren’t that stupid and although we all have areas where we fall short from time to time, for the most part we try and do our bit to stay alive.

Now although you may not keel over tomorrow, it is interesting to think that you could be adding or subtracting years with lifestyle. Probably a more worrying thought is that if your lifestyle is killing you but your genes are good, you could end up living to a ripe old age but with a stale old brain!

On a sadder note this weekend’s papers told the quite depressing story about Margaret Thatcher’s descent into dementia. Whether you ever agreed or disagreed with her politics, as a human being she was pretty formidable. I remember many years ago reading that she never allowed herself any more than four or five hours sleep a night. In one of his books, Irish entrepreneur Bill Cullen is another advocate of not sleeping too much, pushing the idea of getting up and getting at ‘em.

I don’t know if such long term sleep deprivation contributed to Margaret Thatcher’s current state of mental health, but there are enough studies to show that it is not good. Bill Cullen, although appearing to have full control of his mental faculties has signed up to be the first Irish space tourist! Maybe there’s something to this sleep deprivation thing after all!

Only sleeping a few hours a night and insisting on working really hard is definitely a lifestyle choice. Only last week I was talking to an eminent doctor who is of the health opinion that if you weren’t born with a particular disease, then you shouldn’t have it at all, even if most of your family have lived or died with it. He believes that very few things are genetically hereditary but lifestyle can be. We tend to make the same food choices and form the same addictions and exercise habits that we see our families doing. It’s just the age old debate of nurture over nature; all indeed interesting thoughts to ponder.

Back to the lifestyle questionnaire which is based on an average life expectancy of 79 years with years added and deducted depending on the answers. So here it is, start with 79 and then answer the following questions, adding and subtracting as you go. 1) Do you have an annual medical? For yes add three years, for no subtract three years. 2) If your grandparents lived to 80 add three years. 3) Do you do voluntary service? If yes add two years. 4) Are you a graduate? Add two years if yes. 5) Subtract three years if you live alone. 6) If you have a sense of humour add three years, if not subtract three. 7) Do you have close friends who listen to your problems? If yes add two years if not subtract two. 8) Do you maintain mental fitness? If so add four years. 9) If you take regular exercise add three years. 10) Add two years if you eat a balanced diet, subtract three if not. 11) If you are always going on and off diets, subtract five years. 12) If you smoke subtract eight years. 13) Subtract two years if you live with a smoker. 14) If you maintain your ideal body weight, plus or minus five pounds, add five years and subtract three years for every 10 pounds of excess weight. 15) If you own a pet add two years if it is a dog or a cat and one year for a passive pet like a goldfish. 16) Add three years if you have two or more female children. 17) If you walk to work add two years, add one if you take public transport and subtract three if you drive. 18) If you are in love add seven years. 19) If you look forward to a long life add five years.

I took the test and found that according to my current lifestyle I will live to 84. Of course this depends solely on staying in love and continuing to do a crossword daily for a little mental exercise. On the other hand should I find myself falling out of love I could always get a dog, start walking to work and volunteer for something to make up six of the seven years lost in the love question. That way I’ll live to 83. On second thoughts, to hell with it, I’ll get a goldfish, less hassle than the dog and I’ll live to 82! Who would want to live any longer than that if you had fallen out of love and were living with someone you found objectionable?

Are these really questions of life and death and should this be taken seriously? I’m not so sure because if you answer all questions positively your life expectancy is 127 years! On the negative side if are not a graduate, are single, have no friends or sense of humour (which might explain why you are single and have no friends), smoke and are thirty pounds overweight then you can only expect to live until you are 44! There’s a shock! So if you are reading this with a similar profile and are approaching 40, I suggest you get yourself a dog, a goldfish and a lover of some sort and you’ll instantly gain a whole ten years.