(I was compelled to write this after reading NY Times business section article by John F. Walsh, 3/7/21, What You Will Need if You Live to Be 100.)
I also would like to live to 100! But only if I am cognitively intact with reasonable vision, hearing, and legs. If I can’t be ambulatory, functional, and have a reasonably happy, meaningful, purposeful existence remaining socially and mentally vibrant then what’s the point? What is quantity of life without quality of life? Immanuel Kant’s 3 rules for happiness are: Something to do; Someone to love; Something to hope for.
The Century Club
The average life span for an American is 76 and 81 for men and women, respectively. So, to live to 100 or beyond is quite the feat. Only one in 5000 Americans are lucky enough to be a member of the century club. However, centenarians are a rapidly growing demographic, 80% of whom are women, who clearly have the gender aging advantage.
When it comes to longevity–as in most every aspect of life–genetics is a key factor, although certainly not the only factor. If you can inherit the right genes, you have won the lottery. So, the first key to becoming a centenarian is the difficult task of picking your ancestors well!
One of my favorite quotes is: “Genes loads the gun, but lifestyle pulls the trigger.” It seems pretty obvious that you don’t get to be a member of the Century Club without pursuing a reasonably healthy lifestyle, encompassing healthy eating habits (whole foods with plant-based emphasis), staying physically active, consuming alcohol in moderation, handling stress well, avoidance of tobacco, obtaining sufficient sleep, etc.
Having access to the latest medical advances is a major correlate of significant longevity, clearly facilitated by having a higher socio-economic status. Other factors common to members of the century club include having a college degree, a major sense of curiosity with the need to continue education throughout life and the pursuit of a variety of activities that engage the mind, and involvement in new experiences big and small. A positive attitude, laughing regularly, not acting one’s age, social engagement with maintenance of strong connections with community, friends and family, and a strong sense of spirituality all seem to be important factors.
A critical factor is maintaining a meaningful and purposeful existence. For many this translates to working in some capacity, whether it full time, part time or volunteering, with commitment to what gives one joy. It is postulated that having purpose and meaning may allow the reframing of stressful and traumatic situations that invariably will surface to enable dealing with them more productively.
Over a decade ago, I wrote my first book (click on hyperlink for PDF copy): Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide to Maximize Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity. I interviewed many elderly patients who were chronologically advanced in age yet physiologically young to gain insight into their secrets to a long and healthy life. These secrets are summarized in the book’s final chapter, as follows:
Aging is, of course, a 100% fatal proposition, and the best recommendation to push the limit of it is to first do no harm by avoiding malignant behaviors. So, the first general rule is active omission—avoid doing bad—do not eat excessively, stay away from harmful substances such as fast food, tobacco and drugs, be moderate when it comes to such things as alcohol and ultra-violet light exposure, minimize stress, etc. The second recommendation to push the limit of aging is active commission—do good—eat properly, exercise vigorously, get enough sleep, seek preventive maintenance, respect yourself, invest in yourself, engage in the fitness and health lifestyle, live well!
The specific keys to aging well as delineated by the youthful elderly population are summarized as follows:
–Maintain an active, purposeful, and meaningful existence— for many this means continuing to work in some capacity or involvement in other endeavors that create purpose— this allows one to structure their time effectively and maintain a sense of community
–Make a long-term commitment to ample exercise and physical activity
–=Stay mentally engaged and passionate about interests and hobbies including reading, travel, games, art, music, crafts, pets, etc.
–Fuel yourself with the healthiest diet possible
–Avoid self-abusive behavior—junk food, obesity, tobacco, excessive alcohol, excessive sun exposure, undue risks—maintain an “everything in moderation” attitude
–Maintain close relationships with family and friends—put great effort into your marriage or primary relationship as it is a vitally important attribute of aging well
–Have an optimistic and grateful attitude—a cheery, happy and upbeat disposition with a sense of hope about what the future will bring and a good sense of humor and deal positively with stress
–Counter life’s inevitable losses, changes, and vicissitudes with adaptation
–Practice preventive maintenance and avail yourself of all the advances medicine has to offer
–Care about yourself, respect yourself and invest in yourself—live well
Wishing you the best of health and may you live to 100 or more!