I have to admit, I've been on a bit of a health kick lately. Some people who know me might laugh and say, "lately?!" Okay, I always seem to be on some kind of health kick - new healthy eating plan, new exercise, Yoga, tapping. You name it. I'll try it. But it pays off. I feel pretty good... I was going to say "for my age," but I'll leave that out.
I think my interest in health and wellness began very early in life. My mother died from cancer at age 36 when I was 8 years old. I didn't understand what was going on then and I still am not sure what led to this rare type of eye/sinus cancer and her untimely death.
As the years have gone by, I have become more and more interested in prevention of any and all diseases and, most of all, vitality - at any age.
In my ongoing quest to learn more about health and wellness, I was watching a video on longevity. It was called "The Science of Longevity: How to Live a Long and Healthy Life." It's based on a study that explores the fastest growing segment of the population - Centenarians - people who live to be 100+. Not only are they living longer, but they are happier and have a higher quality of life.
First of all, it's probably not a surprise that this study found that chronic disease is at an all-time high and our bodies are slowly filling up with toxins from the foods we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. The Longevity study estimated that by 2050, half of Americans age 65 or older will suffer from Alzheimer's disease. I'm guessing the numbers are similar in Canada.
There are twice as many Centenarians in Japan as in the U.S. and they have less heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Amazingly, 90% are disability-free at the age of 93 and they are happy and optimistic and depression and other mental health concerns are almost non-existent.
Of course we want to live a long life, but we don't want to live a long and miserable life. We want to ensure we are increasing our quality of life and "health span." Basically, the research suggests that, to a great degree, we decide how old we will get. What? Apparently, our longevity is not primarily based on the genes we inherited, but it is more likely that the sum of our own habits has the greatest impact.
So it comes down to 25% of your longevity is controlled by your genes, and 75% is determined by your lifestyle habits. This is good news! We have more control than we originally thought.
The study zeroed in on 5 spots in the world where people live longer and happier lives. These are called the Blue Zones. One is a little Greek Island called Ikaria where 1/3 of the island’s population lives to 90 - this is twice as many as Americans. The others are Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and Loma Linda, California.
So what's their secret?
It's not complicated at all. They value and enjoy good food, active lifestyle, family, social connections, and spirituality. The elderly play significant roles in the community. Stress is avoided. They sleep and wake according to their internal clocks. Depression and dementia are rare and they are healthier and live longer.
If you want to prevent the root causes of illness, you can focus on the same lifestyle secrets they do. If you are already struggling with an illness or mental health concern, these simple tips are equally, if not more important, for you to intervene before any further damage occurs.
7 lifestyle habits of the Blue Zone Centenarians:
DIET AND NUTRITION
A typical Ikarian diet consists of fresh garden vegetables, olive oil, legumes, potatoes, goat’s milk yogurt, whole grain bread, honey, wild herbs, herbal tea, coffee, fish, and the occasional pig. There is no processed sugar or refined food in their diet. Other longevity foods and supplements are blueberries, flaxseed, green tea, reishi mushrooms, turmeric, zinc, magnesium, ginkgo biloba, red ginseng, Resveratrol, Vitamin E, and red wine.
The study found that intermittent fasting was common in the Blue Zones. Calories are restricted for periods of time and then they return to eating normally. When calories are intermittently restricted, the body maintains a "lasting memory" of optimal metabolic function. Even more benefits occur when proteins and sugars are restricted. Fasting boosts cellular regeneration and stem cell production. Cells are cleaned out during the fasting phase and then rebuilt during the "refeeding" phase. It also benefits blood sugar, hormone function, fat burning, cardiovascular health, immune function, and longevity.
Obviously, reduced air pollution and clean filtered water improves longevity.
They engaged in moderate exercise. Too much exercise can increase cancer risk.
How much exercise is optimal?
People who exercised for 150 minutes per week had a 31% decreased risk of premature death.
Clearly, this lovely lady is an example of someone who has gone above and beyond the moderate level!
To maintain brain function as you age, learning new skills that activate key parts of the brain is important. These must be new mentally demanding skills. Not simple tasks such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku, but new mentally stimulating tasks such as a new hobby, digital photography, a new game, or volunteering at something you've never done before.
Sleep clears out the brain toxins and this optimizes your health and lifespan. When you sleep, your brain is working hard to remove toxic proteins such as the ones responsible for Alzheimer's damage. Optimal sleep is 6-9 hours a night for enhanced brain function.
Stress management is critical for living a long and healthy life. Good stress busters are Yoga, Tai Chi, dance, or hiking in nature. Science shows that Yoga can actually slow aging and reduce age-related respiratory problems and depression, cognitive decline, hormone insufficiency, and sleep issues. Dr. John Denninger found that certain genes turn on and off during Yoga and trigger beneficial responses in the body and brain. Check out my favorite Yogi - Yoga with Adriene
Here's a good one! Get a pet. Pet owners reap many health benefits such as reduced risk for heart disease, decreased pain, better immune function, and improved longevity.
An excellent tool recommended for stress management is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping). The study said "it's hard to beat" and is effective for a wide variety of stress-related conditions. Even kids can learn tapping! You know this is one of my favorites! Here's my blog on tapping
LIVING WITH PURPOSE AND GRATITUDE
Having a purpose tops the list when it comes to longevity and quality of life. This means you have a life aim and a goal that provides a sense of meaning. It's something you look forward to doing. The Japanese concept of ikigai means a "life worth living" which is associated with longer life. People with a greater sense of purpose are motivated to engage in healthier lifestyle behaviors. So they eat healthier, exercise, ensure they get enough sleep, value healthy rituals, and community. They don't identify with disease or compare themselves to others and they are quick to forgive.
Loneliness and social isolation influences life expectancy. In a study, it was shown that mortality risk was 20% higher for people who were socially isolated and 32% higher for people who lived alone.
Gratitude reduces stress, benefits physical health, and lowers the risk of heart attack. Grateful people are more likely to take good care of themselves. Learn more in my blog on gratitude.
So the Longevity study has brought to light some key points that we can put in place to improve our health span. We can clearly see that our lifespan or level of health is not solely based on our assigned genetics. This is good news for most of us! We are not predestined to get some kind of disease just because our relatives did.
So I am happy to share that there are many things you can do to increase the odds in your favor to live a long and happy life.
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Beth Matthews is a Registered Psychologist who is driven to help people feel better about themselves. She can help you if you are struggling in your life. You can learn easy-to-use strategies to help you cope with anything that comes your way.