Tag Archives: anti-aging

old-man-appleYou may not want to live forever (and in fact we can’t) and you may not even want to live to 100, but as we age we may start to experience some age related challenges, or challenges from past lifestyle choices, such as sporting or job related injuries, poor diet, stress and more that we can avoid, improve on and manage better.

While there are some things we can’t avoid, and some things we have to manage as we get older, there are many ways we can live well to enjoy life as we age, especially between 40 and 80+ years old. Unfortunately in most Western countries, we do not have a longevity culture. By this we mean a culture that values older people, that strives to maintain healthy habits and lifestyle practices that best aid us in later years. There seems to be a certain ‘live as long as you can, and deal with whatever pops up’ mentality, rather than a conscious awareness and effort to actually live well, as well as possible, as we age.

We may all know or know of someone who has made it to 100 or more years old, and they are more an oddity, exception or special interest than a possibility or potential. Too often we focus on our aged population’s ill health, degeneration and disability. But a great many aged people, say between 60 and 90, are still very mobile, physically active, mentally astute and sharp, and some even still working or actively involved in their communities.

For those of us more deeply interested in living well as we age, hopefully disease and disability free, still mentally and emotionally sharp, still active in and valued by our families and communities, we need hope, we need inspiration and we need healthy examples. And all this can come from places, people and cultures in the world who live longer than anywhere else, and have more healthy, disease free elderly, even more 100+ years olds, than anywhere else on Earth.

These places are most commonly called Blue Zones, where people live the longest, live disease free, are mobile and active, respected and valued in their communities and cultures, and revered for their age related wisdom, history and longevity. And it’s not luck that they live long and strong. It’s partly genetics and largely lifestyle – the longevity lifestyle. Blue Zones like Okinawa, Japan, Greece, Sardinia, Costa Rica and others are amazing examples of traditional lifestyles that we can all draw on for inspiration and solid practises to help us live longer and stronger in the West. It is doable. It is being done, and it is amazing to see and experience.

Longevity experts, having studied these Blue Zones for decades, have identified a list of key lifestyle choices and practises common to all longevity hotspots that contribute to their longevity and healthy aged lifestyles. And we can adopt these same lifestyle choices and practices to our benefit, at any age, but especially as we get older, to minimise disease and disability, and most importantly, to enjoy life for longer – pursuing our passions, enjoying our families and communities more, and living longer and stronger because it’s possible.

We need a clearer, more compelling vision for what our life could be as we age. One that is mobile and active, energetic and passionate. Not one that accepts degeneration and disease, shutting down and depression as part of aging. We only live once – let’s make it long and strong and the best it can be. In coming posts, I’ll share more about longevity and the things we can do to live longer and stronger. Stay tuned.

 

The people of Okinawa live longer and healthier lives than people anywhere else in the world. Large numbers of Okinawans have remained strong and active into their 70s, 80s, 90s and even beyond 100. They have amazingly low occurrences of heart disease, cancer and strokes. The phenomenon has been studied for the past 25 years in the Okinawan Centenarian Study, and this year the results were summarised and published in English for the first time. The study’s findings give an insight into why the Okinawans live so long and possible reasons why they seem to suffer so much less than other peoples from the common diseases of aging.

The now famous book, The Okinawa Program, explains the research and also provides advice on how it is possible to increase your own longevity by taking some pointers from these super-fit grandparents and great-grandparents. The Okinawa Program is already a best-seller in the US and people all over the world are now looking to Okinawa to show them the elixir of everlasting health.

It is possible that the Okinawan people have a natural genetic predisposition to be more resistant to certain diseases, but the study shows that more important than the genetics of a person is the environment in which they live. It’s not the genes that you’ve got that matter; it’s what you do with them. Unfortunately, the key to the long healthy life of Okinawans cannot be found from just one magic vitamin that can be supplemented in pill form. However, there are several lifestyle factors that improve a person’s overall health and chance of longevity that include diet, exercise and a stress-reducing psycho-spiritual outlook on life.

The traditional diet in Okinawa has a large amount of soy and vegetables, and is low in meat and accompanying saturated fats. This means that you are more likely to see a centenarian eating goya (a bitter tasting gourd vegetable) and tofu than a cheeseburger and fries. Large amounts of vegetables and whole grains bulk out the diet and provide essential nutrients and good fats (poly and monounsaturated) while lower amounts of the wrong kinds of fats (saturated and trans) mean that their arteries are not getting clogged up.

This may, therefore, be one of the main reasons that, on average, Okinawans have 80% less heart attacks than Westerners. While many Western pensioners don’t do anything more physical than switch channels or fill in crosswords, Okinawans remain active. Walking, gardening, dance and martial arts all help maintain their cardiovascular systems while also keeping up muscle and bone strength.

The slower pace of life in Okinawa, prayer, meditation and spiritual beliefs (particularly among older women) provide greater peace of mind. There is a strong link between spiritual wellbeing and physical health. If a person is happy and content, then their immune system will be stronger and they are less likely to become sick. Conversely, a person who is depressed is more likely to become sick and less able to recover.

Okinawa is described by many as the ‘real’ Shangri La, to differentiate it from other so-called geriatric utopias, such as Abkhasia, Hunza and Vilcabamba, where claims of extreme longevity have turned out to be groundless. But all is not well in paradise. Okinawan lifestyles are changing and the statistics for mortality and morbidity are following. A more Western diet high in saturated fat combined with less physical activity, and more smoking and drinking means that heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes and other lifestyle related diseases are on the rise and can be seen at increasingly younger ages. This, coupled with an increasing suicide rate in young and middle-aged males, means that Okinawa’s number one ranking in the longevity charts is slipping.

The Okinawa Program book aims to change unhealthy lifestyle practices in both Okinawa and Western societies by providing several self-help chapters that give advice from diet to meditation and even becoming and staying optimistic.