Whenever I would suggest that my patients develop a plan to live to 100 and beyond, it would usually elicit groans, complaints and sometime panic. After all, who wants to live to be 100 years old, sick, on tons of medications, and unable to live life to its fullest?
Fortunately, there is good news for those pessimists out there: New research is showing that living to 100 may be easier than you think.
Currently, we have a generation of baby boomers that have watched many of their parents’ retirement years be stolen away by chronic disease and physical injury. Their impression of growing old is one of suffering and disability.
For the most part, this has been true. Over 80% of the population will die of either heart disease or cancer. The average Canadian currently fills 14 prescriptions every year, while the average senior will fill even more than that. If you look around, you’ll see Canadians are living longer, but they are not healthier.
The secret to longevity involves a complex dance between lifestyle, environment, social structure and genetics. While many of the recent studies on centenarians -people that live to 100 and beyond – have focused on genetic factors, they have also revealed certain common traits among the longest lived people in the world.
One interesting fact is that they tend not to get sick as often and when they do they tend to recover very quickly. Also, they do not seem to suffer from the same lifestyle-related illnesses that plague modern society such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.
There are several common lifestyle factors among these centenarians. For the most part the did not smoke, they drank moderately, their diets were high in vegetable content, they had positive social influences, low stress and they were still active later on in life.
Researchers have also identified certain gene mutations that can predict longevity with some accuracy; however, it remains unclear whether these genetic mutations were hardwired at birth or epigenetic changes that occur as a result of those very same healthy lifestyle practices.
Here’s what the centenarians did to build incredible health and longevity:
Have a plan – Most centenarians had a daily routine for their diet, exercise and social activities. Surprisingly, they also regularly set goals for the future.
Eat real food – Centenarians rarely ate processed foods and consumed copious amounts of green, leafy vegetables, colorful fruits, good fats and lean healthy meats, especially oily fish.
Move – Any kind of exercise was better than none. Daily walking or other low impact activities combined with some resistance training (lifting weights) seemed to have the biggest impact on longevity.
Play – Staying mentally active whether through reading, learning new activities, puzzles, or even working beyond retirement, were also predictors of longevity.
Sleep – People that sleep 8 hours or more a night live longer and are less likely to develop heart disease and other illnesses.
The bottom line is, lifestyle plays a dominant role in living to 100 and beyond.