10 tips for thriving longer

longlife

SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT

That’s a big number.  That is how much control we each have to determine who we will live out our lives.  Will be be mired in chronic illnesses?  Will we be the man or woman bungee jumping on their 90th birthday?  The person getting their Ph.D at 85?  It turns out we have a lot of say in how our story ends.

Here are 10 tips on how to control your own destiny.

  1. Use it or lose it. It’s true that the more sedentary you become, the less you will be able to do the things you love to do because your muscles will atrophy, your brain will become apathetic….you get the message.  What your Grandma told you is actually backed by scientific evidence.
  2. Keep moving. In a 2008 National Health Survey, they discovered that 36 percent of adults were considered inactive.That’s ALL ADULTS.  If you focused that on just older adults, I suspect the number would rise. Being sedentary increases your risk dramatically for all kinds of chronic illness from heart disease to osteoporosis to decreased cognition.  Trust me, after spending hours with my dad in an assisted living center, you DON’T want to sign up for any of these. Unfortunately our society has segmented physical activity for us.  Now it is relegated to “going to the gym” or “exercise class.” Instead, it should be worked into the very fabric of our lives, just as it was for our ancestors.
  3. Challenge your brain. This doesn’t necessarily  mean going back to school, although that would be great.  It just means challenging yourself to learn something or do something new each day.  Walk a different way to the store than you usually do. Read.Try your hand at learning a new language. An interesting study conducted in Minnesota on Nuns showed that when they performed autopsies on their brains after death, they found all the typical anatomical things associated with Alzheimers. However, none of the Nuns showed any symptoms because they continued to stay active physically and mentally throughout their lives, thereby stalling the onset of those symptoms. You can control your destiny.
  4. Stay Connected. Our ancestors learned that they were better together than they were alone.  We are not human unless we are with others. This is why solitary confinement is probably the most extreme torture method used. Several scientific studies have proven that when we feel a part of a community, our bodies, at the cellular level, show positive gains.
  5. Lower your Risks. Of course if you are prone to heart disease and diabetes, as I am, because my mother had both, it is important to actively lower those risks.  For me, that meant keeping my weight in order, making sure I get plenty of exercise and I try to eat clean.  All of this helps minimize my risk.  Know your risks and be the Captain of your own health.
  6. Never Act Your Age. If you expect to be old, you will act old.  Enough said.  You are the  maestro of your life. You decide whether you are old.  I suggest to you that you are never truly “old.”  You may have to face physical challenges at some point – we all will age at some point physically.  But just like you did when you were young, you find “work around” solutions to keep going.  You don’t just accept that your better days are behind you.  You just don’t.
  7. Wherever you are, be in the moment.  It is so important to get out in nature.  To get off the electronics.  To focus all of your attention on your spouse, your grandkids, your kids. In today’s life, technology has caused our brains to run 24/7 and it’s not a healthy thing.  You don’t have to meditate, although that is one way to force yourself to be in the moment.  But it is truly healthy for you to take a walk on a beautiful day;  look at the fall color; focus on the breeze. Be where you are. When your mind is on the next thing, you are creating stress.  And we all know, stress is a killer.
  8. Keep children in your life. There is something magical about the connection we all have to children, whether they are your own or others.  They view their world through a prism of constant learning.  We were once like that.  To be around children offers you the wonderful opportunity to teach them and to also learn from them.  This stimulates your brain, can be physically demanding (keeping you physically active) an is just plain fun!
  9. Find purpose. This cannot be understated.  We are wired to live purposefully. As Albert Schweitzer said “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sough and found a way to serve.” Think about how you might serve others.  This is the element that ties it all together.  If you are serving others, you will find yourself a part of a community, you will find yourself mentally challenged, you will be fully engrossed in this activity, which means you will be “in the moment” and it will help reduce your overall risks for chronic illness. And you’ll be helping others!  A Win-Win!
  10. Laugh often. It has been scientifically proven that laughter lowers the stress hormone cortisol.You can actually laugh yourself to better health. A study conducted at Boston University on Centenarians found over a 15 year study of those 100+ that they were able to handle stress much better, and to show more resilience if they laughed often. Laughter usually happens when you are with someone, so that fulfills tip #4.

GET TO WORK ON YOUR OWN LIFE!

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Live Longer. Live Better.

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We really are in control of our destiny.

Daylesford Crossing, where my dad lives, had a visiting author, Dr. Richard Landry, MPH,  come and speak this evening.  There were a couple of notable takeaways that I’d like to share from his presentation:

  1. In our country, we spend 3-4% on preventable healthcare and the rest on the treatment of chronic diseases
  2. According to The MacArthur Foundation study on successful aging, 70% of the physical difference and 50% of the intellectual difference between those who age successfully and those who age by experiencing a slow decline lived out with chronic illness were due to lifestyle choices…Those who lead sedentary lives, don’t take care of themselves mentally, spiritually or otherwise will live nearly HALF of their lives with chronic illnesses – most of which can be either forestalled or prevented simply by making different choices in our lives.
  3. If you want to live longer and die shorter, you must live your life like the fall foliage we all appreciate:  as we age, we grow more beautiful individually and collectively with all the other trees, we become a stunning display.  And when our time arrives, we die just as the leaves fall from the tree.

Physically speaking we have evolved from hunters and gatherers.  They used their bodies.  They moved ALL THE TIME. On average they walked between 15,000 and 23,000 steps a day.  They had to always be thinking, innovating to stay one step ahead of their environment which was full of predators.  They found that they were more effective working as a community rather than individually. And they had no formal schooling, so the younger folks learned from the older folks and the older folks were held in high regard and had a purpose for their entire lives. This is how we lived for a very very long time.  It is only since the industrial revolution that we have dramatically veered away from this lifestyle.

We have invented all sorts of things to keep us from moving – cars, escalators, moving sidewalks, TV, etc.  Our society has become extremely youth focused, therefore marginalizing  a huge segment of the older population. As we age, we tend to become more isolated as friends die off, move and spouses die. And we start to buy in to the belief that our prime has passed.  All of these attitudes and societal norms have contributed to a huge rise in chronic disease.  Couple this with the fact that science has us all living longer and you have a tsunami on our hands.

In my next blog post I will write about some of the ways you can stem this tide and, at any age, live your life the way it was meant to be lived.  Age is just a number.  It’s how you internalize that and the choices you make that has the biggest difference in how you will age.

Stay tuned.