Forever Young

At some point over a holiday dinner gathering with family members at my house, the conversation turned to how to live the longest, healthiest life possible. (I have to admit that if I cannot have a healthy life, then I do not desire a long one, but that’s beside the point).  We read stories about centenarians and we wonder if there is a fountain of youth out there… if there is a secret to longevity that a select few share and we are not privy to.

Statistics show that some of the longest-living populations in the world are concentrated in specific areas of the world – in Okinawa, in Andorra, in Peru. Those areas do not necessarily appear to be linked by climate or geography  – and yet these clusters of people are living long, healthy lives, mostly without extensive medical intervention. Sure, we might make it to our 90s with the help of modern medicine, but I don’t want the last 20 years of my life to be dependent on a medical regimen of 12 pills a day, a wheelchair, a pacemaker, etc. That is not a life, that is a long prelude to death.

So what is the common thread among people living long AND healthy lives, if there is one? Researchers and writers have attempted to answer this question via tracking down, observing and interviewing these groups of people and a picture has emerged. A picture that unfortunately does not bode well for those of us leading a “modern” lifestyle.

Some of the things that centenarians have identified as being key to their longevity have been:

1) Regular physical activity – we are not talking an hour on the treadmill 3 days a week after work. We are talking daily – and varied – physical activity. Most of these people are still cleaning their homes, bathing themselves, making small repairs around the house and tilling their gardens well into their 90s.

2) Eating simple, fresh, real food – these folks take advantage of nature’s bounty and eat what the local flora and fauna have to offer, without chemical additives and complicated cooking or processing techniques. In Japan, it might be shark fin soup while in Peru it’s fried plantains – the key is keeping it simple, natural, and local.

3) Spending time outside – fresh air and sunlight work wonders for both health and mood, and most younger generations are in sore need of more outdoor time.

4) Strong family and social connections – Facebook does not count. Spending time with friends, children and grandchildren keeps them active and gives them something to live for and look forward to every day.

5) Avoiding stress – most of these people did not spend their lives in stressful professions and they are not above a nice glass of wine or spirits to relax at the end of a long day. They enjoy the simple things and do not worry about having lots of possessions.

So it seems that there is no “secret,” nor a magic potion for a high life expectancy. The above-listed concepts are all common-sense and uncomplicated. Yet most of us fail to live that way.  Most average people are spending little time being physically active, and even less time being outside. They spend lots of time eating bad food, and even more time stressing about their jobs and mortgages. Their friends and loved ones – their support network – are scattered around the country. In other words, most of us are living the opposite of what nature dictates.  So, take a look at your situation and think about what changes you can try to incorporate today – right now – to try to give yourself the best shot at a long – AND healthy – life.

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