Tag Archives: health

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.

 

A while back I saw the ABC program "Primal Instincts". Part of a series, the one I saw examined Happiness, demonstrating its source and what makes some happy and others sad. With advanced computer graphic imagery and Magnetic Resonance Scanning the program looked inside our brain's reward wiring system to observe pleasure and happiness at work - the deep limbic system bathing the brain in dopamine at the mere thought of pleasure; the left prefrontal cortex lighting up with activity in specific areas when we feel happy.  The search and quest for happiness is the positive motivating force behind most of what we do.

Evolutionary biology tells us these are the same sensations that prompted our ancestors to explore the world and find food. Brain scans demonstrated how the mere thought of food can trigger enough powerful chemicals to make someone a compulsive eater. Corporations that shall remain nameless have exploited this knowledge through advertising, to get primitive forces deep in the brain set off a rush of pleasure hormones in anticipation people spending for a 'Happy Meal'.  This contributes greatly to rising levels of obesity in our culture.

A global survey of happiness, from the streets of New York to the slums of India and Tibet shows show that happiness cannot be bought and that most are between 6 and 7 on an objective happiness scale.  Depressives may rank between 3 and 4. Switzerland is the place to be with an average happiness level of 8.1. Denmark is a close second with an 8.0 average level. The remaining top 10 countries include (in descending order) Costa Rica, Iceland, Luxemburg, Ghana, Canada, Ireland, Nicaragua and Sweden. Australia is 11th, UK number 12, whilst El Salvador 13, Norway 14 and USA 15. It has been shown that compassion is closely co-related with happiness, both individually and collectively.  It is not surprising that that Australia, UK and USA have fallen on the scale over the last 50 years as they have become less compassionate, less caring societies.

Four ways of cultivating happiness

1. Build a more sharing and caring community

2. Live simply, avoid dependency on stressful systems

3. Cultivate creativity in your life

4. Combat aggressive ignorance with non-violent wisdom.

There are ways to increase our level of happiness - 'laughter clubs' show that exercising muscles used in smiling actually activate the pleasure centres in the brain. It appears we can "fake it till we make it"!  Meditation practices are shown to have a high positive correlation with happiness, and act to permanently rewire our brains.

In the program it showed that scientists have probed the brain of perhaps the world's happiest man - a French scientist and master meditator who for over 30 years has embraced Tibetan Buddhist meditation. The program recreated the scientific tests which revealed the inner workings of Matthew Ricard's brain and why the scientist turned monk was way off the scale at the top end, achieving an extraordinary state of happiness.

Perhaps with the compassion, the cultivation of equanimity, the meditation, the laughter and the food – the fat and happy "laughing Buddha" really does show the road to happiness and how to end suffering.

“There is no WAY to happiness. Happiness IS the way!”

- by Dr. Wayne Dyer