Be a Healthy Centenarian

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As a young boy, I was always fascinated with physical fitness and the human body. During this time, I also noticed one thing- that I saw many older people not looking healthy and appearing frail and fragile, lacking energy, posture issues, back problems, knee pain, etc. I am only referring to the mechanical problems of the aging human body, not referring to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, prostate problems, cardiovascular issues, respiratory ailments, and cancer. After I saw all these elderly struggling with their health, it concerned me: how was I going to age? So began my lifelong crusade of discovering the best ways to maintain a healthy body and mind throughout a long and exciting lifetime.

Do you want a long and full life? I do!  Most of us do, and hopefully, if we can learn anything from centenarians, it’s how to do exactly that!  Based on current statistics, there are about 750,000 of total centenarians worldwide. Exact numbers may be difficult to determine, since many of them live in developing countries, where data is not available.  This number is projected to increase in future years- meaning the more we know about healthy lifestyle, the more likely it is that we can make it to triple digit lifespans! The vision is to live 100 years and not just stay alive! Over the past 50 years, the human lifespan has increased all over the world, especially in first world countries. It must be noted, however, that although the lifespan has increased by 20+ years on average, the quality of life in those extra years is largely determined by healthy lifestyle choices.

I believe that you have more control over your body then you think- you can control, manage, or completely avoid 60-70% of known chronic conditions with physical fitness, healthy nutrition, and social,mental and spiritual balance!

Here’s what centenarians can teach us:

  • 75% is Lifestyle Choices:  
    • Researchers estimate that 25% of variance in life span comes from genetics and the rest from environmental factors, including diet and exercise.  This means that lifestyle choices play a LARGE role in how long you live and the quality of life during those years.
    • In a study of Swedish men, researchers found that those who did not smoke, had low cholesterol, consumed moderate amounts of coffee, and had a good socio-economic status at age 50 as well as good physical working capacity at age 54 were most likely to survive to age 90, whereas parents’ survival was of no predictive value at age 50 or 62
    • This research suggests that we can influence many of the factors that determine our lifespan and that lifestyle can affect life expectancy more than genetics
  • Stop Stressing So Much:  
    • In a psychological study with people over 100 years old, neuroticism was scored lower than average, which means that centenarians tend to let this go and not dwell on problems.  By being in control on stress instead of stress controlling them, they were able to live happy, healthy lives.
    • Chronic stress damages critical parts of your DNA and can actually shorten your life span by as many as four to eight years
    • Stress also compromises the immune system, making you more likely to get sick
    • Managing stress effectively, through activities such as exercise, controlled breathing, and meditation can help reduce negative biological responses to stress
  • Exercise Your Entire Life: even into old age!
    • Regular exercise is the closest thing we have to miracle cure and one of the strongest predictors of a long life. A 1998 Finnish study looked at 16,000 twins, both fraternal and identical, and found that those who exercised regularly had 44% the risk of death of their sedentary siblings- regular exercisers generally live five to seven years longer than inactive people.
    • People who are active have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, depression and dementia
    • Physical activity is even more important in the elderly to stay healthy, energetic, and independent
  • Practice Moderation: Centenarians will agree that a life lived in moderation is what lead them to good health. Include moderation in alcohol and foods high in saturated fats, sodium, and sugars.
    • studies suggest that eating fewer calories/practicing calorie control may increase life span.
    • a study by Dan Beuttner found that the oldest Japanese people commonly stop eating when they are only about 80% full.
    • In a 2006 study, researchers at Washington University found that eating a low-calorie yet nutritionally balanced diet lowers levels of T3, a thyroid hormone that speeds up the aging process.
    • Women who have two or more drinks per day and men who have three or more may experience negative outcomes, such as weight gain or relationship problems
  • Eat a Vegetarian Diet:  
    • In 2009 the Archives of Internal Medicine held a study on 547,000 older Americans and  that found those who ate the most red meat had a 31% to 36% higher risk of dying over 10 years.  People who get their proteins and fats from vegetables versus meats have a lower incidence of heart disease as well.
    • Studies in Western populations have shown that vegetarians tend to have a lower BMI, lower cholesterol, and a lower mortality risk from ischemic heart disease (the most common type of heart disease and cause of heart attacks) than comparable non-vegetarians.
    • Vegetarians have higher dietary fiber intake than non-vegetarians; high fiber intake is associated with lower risk or improvements in several chronic diseases.
  • Genetics Matters, but only for about 5%:  
    • The Albert Einstein College of Medicine has found a genetically inherited protein present in higher than normal levels in his centenarians that may protect them against Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
    • longevity tends to run in families
    • In the Okinawan Centenarian Study, researchers found that siblings of centenarians had an average of 11.8 years extra lifespan compared to an age-matched control group
    • the genetic component of longevity gets larger with increasing age
  • Take Care of Oral Hygiene: Dental health is directly correlated to heart health. Research shows direct links between gingivitis/gum inflammation and heart disease. In a study of older patients in nursing homes, researchers found that oral care was associated with reduced risk of pneuomonia, days with symptoms of fever, and deaths from pneumonia.
  • Be Social:  It is rare to come acrossagrumpycentenarian- most have a sense of humor and are social.  It should also be noted that many are close to family and friends, which has been scientifically proven to increase life span in the elderly. It is enormously important to have at least one close friend that you can share your lives milestones with.
    • Research shows that you’re at greater risk of heart disease without a strong social network of friends and family; loneliness can cause inflammation, which can be just as dangerous as having high cholesterol or smoking in otherwise healthy individuals.
    • Having social ties with friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues can improve our odds of survival by 50%.
  • Stop Smoking:  Smoking takes 15 years off your life. Period. Smoking is bad for your health, but exactly how does quitting make life better? Here are 10 ways your health will improve when you stop smoking.The quitting timeline:
    • After 20 minutes your blood pressure and pulse return to normal.
    • After 24 hours your lungs start to clear.
    • After two days your body is nicotine-free and your sense of taste and smell improve.
    • After three days you can breathe more easily, and your energy increases.
    • After two to 12 weeks, your circulation improves.
    • After three to nine months coughs, wheezing and breathing improves.
    • After one year your heart attack risk is half that of a smoker.
    • After 10 years your lung cancer risk is half that of a smoker.
  • Sleep More: Lack of sleep is linked to heart disease- so sleep between 7-8 hours a night. Lack of quality sleep has been linked to obesity, high blood pressure and other factors directly associated with cardiovascular risk. Getting enough sleep can also improve mood, enhance memory and ability to think clearly, lower stress, and lead to stronger immunity. Too much or too little sleep is associated with a shorter lifespan.
  • Have Spiritual Balance: According to a new study spiritual or religious practice may fight off depression – particularly in people who are predisposed to the disease – by thickening the brain cortex. It shows that spiritual beliefs and practices improve many physical and mental illnesses, reducing severity of symptoms and likelihood of relapse, speeding up and enhancing recovery, and rendering stress and disability easier to endure
  • Positive Thinking: 
    • A 2007 study that had a control group of more than 6,000 men and women aged 25 to 74 over 20 years, discovered that emotional vitality, which includes a sense of enthusiasm, hopefulness, engagement in life, and the ability to cope with life’s stresses with emotional balance—reduces the risk of coronary heart disease.
    • Positive thinking will improve your overall health in old age
    • Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that older people with positive age stereotypes (beliefs about the elderly as a group) were 44 percent more likely to fully recover from severe disability; they also had a slower rate of decline in essential daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, and walking.
    • Both of these research suggest that having a positive attitude can help the elderly live longer, more fulfilling lives.
  • Music enhances our mental health: Music therapy is a technique that is becoming increasingly popular because there are two ways it can be beneficial: either for its inherent healing and restorative qualities or asameansofself expression and communication. Next time you’re feeling stressed,try and de-stress with some music instead of fuming internally. The therapeutic benefits of listening to music are widely known, so listening to one of your favorite songs can help reduce anxiety and be incredibly soothing.
    • In a recent study, researchers found that music therapy reduced depression and delayed deterioration of cognitive functioning in elderly people with dementia.
    • Listening to pleasurable music can improve mood; researchers at McGill University found that listening to pleasurable music triggered the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved with feelings of reward.
    • A 2006 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing showed that listening to music daily can reduce pain by up to 21% and depression by up to 25% in people with chronic pain; it also made people feel more in control of their pain and less disabled by their condition
  • Brain Development: through constant reading, brain activities, self-education. While Alzheimer’s disease makes up 50% of dementia cases, vascular dementia is responsible for up to 40% of cases in older adults, and can be prevented through the lifestyle choices mentioned in this article.
    • In a revolutionary study, older participants who received at least 10 sessions of mental training not only improved their day-to-day cognitive functioning in the months following the training, but continued to show long-lasting improvements a full decade later.
    • There was also a study of 2,832 seniors that did memory, speed processing, and reasoning training in 60-75 minute sessions by using exercises such as detecting patterns in a number series, memorizing lists, and operating a touch-screen program. A decade after the training, nearly 75% of the participants who received memory training and over 70% of speed-trained participants were still performing tasks above their pre-trial baseline level, compared to about 62-49% of the control group.

 

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