I have a passion for health, fitness and happiness. I am not striving for a fountain of youth but rather ways to make aging more enjoyable. Aging can be daunting for anyone however I believe that if we know how to take care of ourselves it can lessen our fears and create an enjoyable journey.
Obviously one way to look toward a brighter future is to look to the past to see how it can be created. The study of centenarians provides much insight into highly effective habits of people who are living into their second century. After much reading I have come up with a condensed version of Centenarian Secrets.
It is interesting to know that reports of people living into their 90’s dates back as far as the 16th century. Genetics only plays a 25% role in determining how long people will live. So the rest is up to you! Your health, fitness, happiness and longevity is your responsibility. Even people with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are living to 100. Science of course has helped many of us reach this goal however your chances of healthy aging improve greatly if you get a head start by being proactive and making positive changes now.
Centenarians are rare. They are rare not because of one single factor though. There are many conflicting findings among centenarians. What seems to be a contributing factor for longevity in one person does not seem to have played much of a role in another persons longevity. It is therefore a combination of factors that allows for extended health.
What Centenarians Have In Common
The first commonality is that they have excellent diets. They tend to eat simply and follow the colorful plate rule which is the more color on your plate the more nutrients you are consuming. Many say they include plenty of greens, dark fruits such as blueberries (high in antioxidants), fiber, oily fish and whole grains.
Another common thread when it comes to diet is caloric restriction. According to the Okinawa Centenarian Study (see http://www.okicent.org) caloric restriction can lead to less metabolic damage which in turn slows down the aging process. The study believes that damage from free radicals (unstable molecules) which are generated mainly from metabolizing food into energy ultimately leads to the damaging of vital body molecules such as body tissues, DNA and so on. They compare the damage to the body to that of a car. Over time this damage accumulates until like an old car we fall apart. The Okinawans have among the lowest mortality rates in the world from chronic diseases of aging. It is believed they may have the world’s longest life expectancy and the world’s longest health expectancy.
The Okinawans traditionally eat a low caloric, low glycemic diet. Their caloric control is a cultural habit known as hara hachi bu (only eating until they are 80% full).
The second healthy habit shared by centenarians is exercise. They were either very active when younger or in some cases still active. The minimum requirement of exercise appears to be 30 minutes at least 3 times a week and it must be the kind of exercise that gets your heart beating and your body sweating. Of course more exercise is ideal but any exercise no matter how simple is better than not doing anything and you are NEVER too old to start. Eventually you will find it easier to exercise as your fitness improves. Walking briskly and swimming are great forms of exercise as they are low impact and easily accessible for most people. If you are in a cold climate and can’t afford indoor exercise equipment try following an exercise DVD. Also don’t forget to always try and make it challenging if you can, otherwise you may become bored. Exercise has so many benefits it is a habit you can’t afford to neglect. Some of the many benefits include strengthening your heart and cardiovascular system, improving your circulation and allowing your body to use oxygen more efficiently, increasing your energy and endurance levels, lowering blood pressure, improving muscle tone and strength, improving balance and flexibility, strengthening your bones, reducing body fat, reducing stress and depression, improving your sleep, enhancing self image and self esteem which all increases your chances of a more enjoyable old age. So put the music on and start sweating!
The third finding in the centenarian studies is that they all have a very strong sense of purpose. A sense of purpose is vital for motivation and overall well being. When our purpose allows us to contribute to society it gives us a sense of social connectedness and belonging. Volunteering is one great way to give back to society and keep active.
A fourth commonality is curiosity. Stay interested in your surrounding world. It has been found that curious people have strong seeking spirits and are very self motivated. Seeking answers to questions is generally very satisfying and often leads to fulfilling experiences that tends to make curious people happier and more satisfied than others. It also leads to the development of strong characters which is a trait of all successful people.
Fifth is play. Have fun! Pursue pastimes and hobbies that bring pleasure. Start painting, gardening, photographing. Join a book club, a golf-club, start up a games night. Anything that makes you smile.
The sixth very healthy habit is sleep. The seven to eight hours a night rule seems to be true. Centenarians speak of sleeping soundly and uninterrupted for at least seven hours and some for up to nine hours. My guess is that it is largely due to everything mentioned above. If you are eating well, exercising, contributing to society, exploring interests and having fun you must be exhausted! Seriously though if you are leading a healthy and well balanced life it will leave little room for any worry, regrets or ill health to interrupt your slumber. If you are still having slumber problems after changing your diet and lifestyle habits make sure you stop eating and exercising 3 hours before bed. Eating and exercising stimulates the body rather than relaxing it.
Number seven is setting and keeping goals. Goal setting helps you move from where you are to where you want to be. Goal setting allows you to map your life to give it meaning, a sense of purpose and direction. The best way is to write your goals down and set them to a realistic timeline.
Centenarians lead active lives and get plenty of rest. They are dedicated lifelong learners and avid travelers. Many centenarians agree that aging is an attitude and they don’t feel old.
Straight From Their Mouths
Here is a random list of centenarian dos and don’ts. Some things are a little obscure but entertaining.
Food and Drink
– Drink apple cider vinegar every morning. This is believed to clean out the pipes and clean out the blood.
– FRUIT…they all said it!
– Red wine…if alcohol is not your thing these healthy polyphenols can also be found in berries, tea, dark chocolate, coffee, walnuts, peanuts, pomegranates and popcorn.
– Multivitamins…a good multivitamin will help when you are unable to get optimum nutrition through your diet. It will pick up the slack so to speak.
– Try to stick to a mostly plant based diet limiting animal products as much as possible.
– Sweet potato…great source of fibre, vitamin A, potassium, vitamin c and folic acid.
– Dark chocolate…a couple of small pieces a day makes for a tasty antioxidant. The darker the better.
– Stop being paranoid about carbohydrates!…eating complex carbohydrates such as brown rice, weetabix, oats, wholemeal pasta, beans, lentils and wholegrain bread will do you no harm. Complex carbohydrates are efficient fuel sources that will fill you up and prevent cravings for not so good foods. They will also help you meet your daily fiber requirements.
– Goat’s milk….the fatty acids in goat’s milk help to prevent atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease. It also contains 13% more calcium, 25% more vitamin B, 47% more vitamin A and 134% more potassium than cow’s milk.
– Reduce your salt intake….salt contributes to high blood pressure and weakens arteries.
– Turmeric….contains many antioxidants that defend against inflammatory ailments.
– Nuts….one of the best plant sources of protein. They are rich in fiber, phytonutrients and antioxidants such as vitamin E and selenium. Nuts are also high in plant sterols and fat..but only the good fats which have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol. Scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces a day may reduce the risk of heart disease. They are high in calories so you want to stick to small servings.
– Drink water….researchers at Loma Linda University studied 20,000 people and found that those drinking at least 5 glasses of water a day had less heart problems than those only drinking only 2 glasses per day. It is a natural stress reducer. Water also is beneficial for healthy skin, helps to flush toxins, cushions and lubes your joints and muscles, aids digestion, aids in burning fat and building muscle, and it can even reduce your risk of diseases and infections, as those who do not drink an adequate amount of water risk chronic cellular dehydration. The cells weaken and are left vulnerable to attack by diseases and infections. The cells then try to draw water from other organs that need it such as the heart. This then places extra stress on the heart causing further problems.
– Green Tea….Green tea has been found to be a powerful antioxidant that may help fight cancer and heart disease. Researchers have been studying green tea for over a decade now and are finding it may also help with lowering cholesterol, burning fat, preventing diabetes, preventing strokes and it may even stave off dementia.
– Honey….Honey is made up of sugars such as glucose and fructose and minerals such as magnesium, potassium, calcium, sodium chlorine, sulphur, iron and phosphate. It contains vitamins B1, B2, C, B6, B5 and B3 of differing qualities due to the nectar and pollen. Honey may be beneficial to those suffering from allergies. If you eat your honey from local sources you may be able to prevent those seasonal allergies as the bees will have used the pollen from local plants that make up your honey. Honey is also wondrous for a sore throat because it has powerful antimicrobial properties which soothe raw tissues. A great remedy is to pour a teaspoon of honey onto a large serving spoon, top it off with lemon juice (no water) every few hours until symptoms clear up. You can also add a pinch or red or black pepper to increase blood circulation to the throat. Honey also has different phytochemicals, the chemicals found in plants and different foods. These chemicals kill viruses, bacteria and fungus making it a good substitute for wound dressings. Honey is a great weapon against bacteria as many types of bacteria cannot survive in honey. It can also be beneficial for burns as it not only prevents infections but it also accelerates skin healing.
– Omega 3….a very popular fatty acid due to the fact it has been linked with lowering blood pressure, stimulating blood circulation, reducing the risk of heart attacks, reducing the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and may help to reduce depression and anxiety. See my hub on Fish Oil for more information.
– Tomato Juice….the main ingredient in tomatoes is lycopene which has been found to help protect DNA in white blood cells and it helps to fight several types of cancer including prostate, colorectal, breast, lung and pancreatic cancers. One cup of tomato juice can provide over 70% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. Tomato juice can also effectively control blood pressure as it is a great source of fiber which helps break down LDL otherwise known as the “BAD” cholesterol. Tomatoes are also great in preventing heart disease as they contain B6 which is known to break down the harmful chemical homocystene which damages the walls of blood vessels.
– Coffee….over the decades some 19,000 studies have been conducted on coffee and its impact on health. So far studies indicate that coffee can lower your risk of diabetes, reduce the chances of developing Parkinson’s disease by 80% as well as lower your risk of colon cancer and lower the risk of developing cavities. Coffee has also been found to lift your mood and effectively treat headaches. I have always loved coffee but the cup I am drinking right now never tasted better! There is also evidence that coffee may help manage asthma and even control attacks when medication is unavailable. Another added bonus is that coffee can be a great boost to athleticism. According to researcher Terry Graham, PhD, of the University of Guelph in Canada, what caffeine does is stimulate the brain and nervous system to do things differently. So it can help you to ignore fatigue, use extra muscles and it may even cause muscles to produce a stronger contraction. So if you like to exercise in the morning don’t forget your coffee!
More Great Tips from Centenarians
– Get a dog….dog owners have lower blood pressure, better fitness levels, are far less lonely and depressed and a study conducted by UCLA found that dog owners required far less medical care for stress induced aches and pains than non-dog owners.
– Embrace your IKIGAI as they say in Japan. Ikigai is your reason to get up every morning. Ikigai is that which makes life most worth living. Having a sense of purpose is an important determinant of longevity. Keep your mind busy and keep your sense of meaning in life.
– Family, Friendship, Peace and Harmony….stay close to your family and friends and make sure to maintain harmony. Show care and consideration for one another.
– Live In The Present….don’t worry about getting something in the future or worry about what you missed in the past. Living in the present is what keeps you young according to a Japanese Centenarian.
– Save Your Pennies….so you don’t end up worrying all the time about not having enough.
– Get Some Sun….you need it for vitamin D. Epidemiologists estimate at least 55 men die prematurely of prostate cancer from too little sun for every man that dies from too much sun. If you are fair skinned experts say going outside for 10 minutes in the midday sun, with no sunscreen will give you enough radiation to produce about 10,000 international units of vitamin D. The sunshine vitamin may protect against a host of diseases including osteoporosis, heart disease and cancers of the breast, colon and prostate. It can also protect against depression and insomnia.
– Think Positive….A study by the Mayo Clinic found optimistic people were 50% less likely to die an early death than their pessimistic counterparts. According to the researchers, people with a positive outlook are generally less stressed and better equipped to handle adversity which may make them healthier.
– Associate With Like Minded People….in keeping with the positivity theme it is usually better for your health to associate with people who have the same positive outlook. While this is not always possible at the very least don’t let them get you down! Another tip from a centenarian is to protect your health by not hanging out with chain smoking, heavy drinking, gambling junk food addicts! lol
– Stop Smoking….easier said than done I know. It is however possible….many, many people have done it. You have to look at it seriously as it is killing you and make the decision to stop. Get any help you can, giving up cold turkey is not for everyone. If you are a non smoker don’t keep bugging people to give it up, it only makes them want to smoke more. Suggest it once and move on. Smokers know it is bad for them, it is up to them to take it seriously. As an ex smoker I know it can be done. Also if you are a smoker have the courtesy not to smoke around non smokers, you are taking away their freedom and causing physical harm.
– Don’t Act Your Age….many centenarians speak of staying young at heart. Our minds are the key to staying young at heart. If you accept the attitude that you are only as young as you feel you will act younger, feel younger and as an excellent consequence……look younger!
And this is probably the most amusing yet best piece of advice for health and longevity…..Out of the mouth of Jack Borden, 101 of Weatherford Texas…..he attributes his longevity to “not dying”.