Dare to be 100: Part 3
In parts 1 and 2 of my “Dare to be 100” series, I reviewed what we know about healthy longevity.
Now, admittedly, most centenarians living today probably have won the genetic lottery. This is not to say that most of us have the capacity to make it well into our early 90s or longer and largely without chronic disease. In fact, long-term studies of average individuals who adopt healthy lifestyle changes suggest average life expectancy can increase 10-15 years depending on when you start, of course. And the research shows that it is never too late to start. Exciting new findings indicate that even the oldest-old among us (>85 years) have the potential to add years to their life, if not life to their years.
Oldest person ever documented
If Bolivia’s public records are correct, Carmelo Flores Laura (pictured in the AP photo, left) is the oldest living person ever documented, according to cbsnews.com (Aug. 18, 2013). Flores, who has long herded cattle and sheep, turned 123 in July. He lives in a straw-roofed hut in the Andes (at about 13,100 feet) in an isolated hamlet near Lake Titicaca. Flores walks without a cane and doesn’t wear glasses.
He explained his longevity in the article:
“I walk a lot, that’s all. I go out with the animals. I don’t eat noodles or rice, only barley. I used to grow potatoes, beans, and oca [an Andean tuber].”
The water Flores drinks originates on the snow-capped peak of Illampu, one of Bolivia’s highest. He doesn’t drink alcohol, but admits he imbibed some in his youth.
Guinness World Records reports the oldest living person verified by original proof of birth is Misao Okawa, a 115-year-old Japanese woman. The verified oldest man had been New York-based Salustiano Sanchez-Blazquez. He just passed away Sept. 13 at age 112. France’s Jeanne Calment achieved the oldest verified age at 122 years and 164 days. She died in 1997.
Two views of aging
While we’re young and we look to the future, we see an endless expanse of years awaiting us. Picture an hourglass. As long as there is sufficient sand trickling down slowly, we don’t spend much time thinking about our age. With each passing day, month, and year the sand continues to fall. Suddenly we realize there’s no stopping it. Right about the time the hourglass is half empty (or half full, depending on your perspective) we start to wonder how to slow down the inevitable.
The classic view of aging depicts a straight, downward plunge that suggests aging progresses at a consistent rate, starting the day you are born. The rate of downward progression is somewhat different for each person, but the progression is steep and never slows down until the end.A modified view of aging, based on research and real-life examples, suggests it is possible to delay the downward progression of aging until much later in life. In this modified view it would not be unusual to find a 90-year-old person looking and feeling like a 70-year-old. We all know people like this, and many of us expect to be like that. (I know I do!)
A modified view of aging, based on research and real-life examples, suggests it is possible to delay the downward progression of aging until much later in life. In this modified view it would not be unusual to find a 90-year-old person looking and feeling like a 70-year-old. We all know people like this, and many of us expect to be like that. (I know I do!)
This view suggests one’s biological age represents the body’s age given current lifestyle habits (and genetics). This may be very different than chronological age based on birth date. The difference between biological age and chronological age is the number ofaccrued years gained from healthy lifestyle choices. The fact is, we all can start to add years to our life and life to our years, starting at any time.
Accruing more years to your life
New research shows it’s possible to determine with a fair degree of certainty the number of accrued days, months, and years gained by changing specific lifestyle habits. While not complete, scientists are able to assess current lifestyle habits and suggest specific changes that can start you on your way to feeling younger.There are five major areas where lifestyle changes will have an immediate impact on accruing time to your life, regardless of when you begin. I’ve already mentioned these in previous Health Yourself columns, but a brief summary follows:
1. Embrace the right attitude. Start now to lead a meaningful and purpose-driven life. If you are bored or doing things you find distasteful or pointless, it’s time to change. Now. Most people at the end of life do not say, “I wish I had worked more.”
2. Move more. Sedentary behavior is a killer, literally. The latest research shows that simply moving every 10-15 minutes for one minute or more provides benefits. GET UP AND MOVE.
3. Cut out added sugar; eat more plants and fruits. Start by eliminating soft drinks and fruit juices from your diet. (Yes, that includes orange juice; eat an orange instead. It has all the sugar, plus nutrients the juice does not.) Reduce your consumption of packaged foods. Add more plant-based foods to your diet. Make meat a side dish instead of a main dish.
4. Choose your tribe carefully and belong to something. The world’s longest-lived people, those reviewed in Part 1 and Part 2 in this series, chose–or were born into–social circles that supported healthy behaviors. Research clearly shows smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So it is important to choose like-minded friends who support positive lifestyle habits. Also, research supports the finding that faith (regardless of religious denomination) helps accrue years to your life.
5. Your environment matters. To be in harmony with your environment means protecting the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat. Eliminating pesticides, additives, and anything that poisons your environment can add years to your life.
So, now it’s up to you. It’s time to grab your “vitality compass” and begin your journey.
• Khaw K.T., et al. “Combined impact of health behaviours and mortality in men and women: the EPIC-Norfolk prospective population study.” PLoS Med 2008;5:e12.
• Yates L.B., et al. “Exceptional longevity in men: Modifiable factors associated with survival and function to age 90 years.” Arch Intern Med 2008;168:294.