Author Dan Buettner has scoured the Earth — not for the fabled Fountain of Youth — but for the key to a happy old age. He spent five years visiting areas of the world where people tend to live longer, healthier lives, areas he calls "Blue Zones."
Buettner says he has identified four things people can do that can potentially increase life expectancy:
- Create an environment that encourages physical activity
- Set up your kitchen in such a way that you're not overeating
- Cultivate a sense of purpose
- Surround yourself with the right people.
"These are long-term fixes that have been shown over and over to add not only more years of life, but better years of life."
-NPR story, "Can 'Blue Zones' Help Turn Back the Biological Clock?", June 8, 2008-
It's the start of the New Year.
It's the start of a new decade.
It's the day I turn sixty.
Look, I'm not a big-birthday-celebration-kind-of-person. They come and go and I don't even think about the years. But turning 60 is different. It's the last quarter of life, with no guarantees on what that quarter is going to look like.
Judging by my parents--that last quarter of life doesn't look so promising. Which is exactly why I've been paying attention to exercise and eating right since I turned 30.
That's when my dad had one of those massive debilitating strokes that left him unable to communicate, unable to read or fully understand speech, and eventually unable to walk or do anything. He was 69 at the time--just when he was getting ready to kick back a little, work a little less, travel, and just enjoy life. He spent 16 years living in this kind of post-stroke-limbo-state, spiraling downward.
My mom was 62 at the time, and my dad's stroke changed her life in an instant. One minute she was planning all the trips they'd finally have a chance to take--and enjoying their new role as grandparents--and in the next she was jockeying the world of wheelchairs and therapists.
With the stress of full-time care-giving, and years of no exercise or attention to diet, by 72 she had developed severe coronary artery blockages, hypertension, kidney stones, and painful spinal fractures. Then came the mini-strokes that finally added up to vascular dementia in her eighties.
And unfortunately, this scenario is all too common. "[M]ost elderly Americans – more than two-thirds of current 65-year-olds, according to a detailed 2005 projection by a team of health policy analysts — at some point will need assistance to cope with daily living, either paid help or unpaid, at home or in a facility."
So, sixty seems kind of scary to me.
Which is exactly why I'm ready for a more "Conscious Aging" plan. We already have all the evidence we need to stay healthy. It's not about adding more years to our lives. It's all about adding more life to our years!
Just a sampling of the evidence.
- The 52 country INTERHEART study was very clear. There are 9 easy-to-modify risk factors that are associated with 90% of heart disease. This was a huge study--30,000 people from every inhabited country--and the results were the same for all races, all sexes, all countries. All 9 of these risk factors are within our control--and would eliminate 90% of heart disease, regardless of one's genetics. 1. Keep lipids (cholesterol & triglycerides) down; 2. Stop smoking; 3. Prevent or control hypertension; 4. Prevent or control diabetes; 5. Reduce belly fat; 6. Find ways to control psychological and social stressors; 7. Increase fruit and vegetable consumption; 8. Moderate alcohol consumption is protective; 9. Get regular physical exercise Lancet 364:937-952, Sept. 11, 2004.
- The Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. "The largest and longest study to date, done as part of the Harvard-based Nurses' Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study, included almost 110,000 men and women whose dietary habits were followed for 14 years. The higher the average daily intake of fruits and vegetables, the lower the chances of developing cardiovascular disease...[F]or every extra serving of fruits and vegetables that participants added to their diets, their risk of heart disease dropped by 4%." Harvard School of Public Health
- The China Study. This is Dr. T. Colin Campbell's mammoth 2006 study on the effects of a plant-based diet on health--citing over 750 studies. The conclusion: People who ate the most-animal-based foods got the most chronic disease. People who ate the most plant-based foods were the healthiest and tended to avoid chronic disease. According to Campbell, "Good nutrition supported by exercise, clean water, and sunshine is greater than the sum of its parts. It's a biological symphony. My introduction to Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- The Longevity Personality. From the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, April 2009 comes this conclusion: Those who live the longest are more outgoing, more active, more easy-going, more empathetic, and more agreeable than those who live a normal life span. The Blue Zones calls it, "likeability".
Here's My Strategy for Staying Out-of-Trouble After Sixty
Some of these are long-time habits, and they're easy for me to follow. Some of these I don't do as regularly as I should. Some of these are new goals. But this much I do know: If I don't have a plan, if I don't do these consciously, and if I don't carve out time to make them happen--they won't.
1. Stick with 7-9 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. The Green Smoothies make it easy. I get 6 servings in a 27 ounce Klean Kanteen that I divide over breakfast and an afternoon snack. I calculated the nutritional info on my daily 27 ounce serving that includes, 2 1/2 cups kale, 8 mini-carrots, 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, 1/2 apple, 1/2 orange, 1/2 kiwi, and 3/4 cup frozen black raspberries. Check out the nutrient content for 27 ounces:
The Healthy Librarian's
Green Smoothie-kale,blackberries,carrots,orange,kiwi,pom juice,apple
Serving Size: 1 serving
|Amount Per Serving|
Then throw in some veggie-based soup, a salad, a veggie-based dinner entree, some fruit for dessert, and I'm good to go.
This eating plan is the same as the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)--guaranteed to stop hypertension. The Cache County (Utah) Study on Memory shows it also prevents cognitive decline. Dr. Amy Lanou and Michael Castleman, authors of Building Bone Vitality claim it will build and strengthen bones--because the 17 nutrients necessary to build strong bones are all found in a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
2. A balanced exercise plan. It's not just about cardio--there are 4 areas that need attention: Cardio (spinning-my fave), Weight-training, Flexibility & Balance (yoga-my fave), and Core Strength. No, you can't just walk and think you're in good shape. I'm super regular with my cardio, and not as regular with the weight training and yoga. Click here to see what my workout looks like. As for core strength--that's pretty much non-existent. And when it comes to weight-training, according to Randy Raugh, the Canyon Ranch physical therapist, and author of the excellent Prime for Life--Functional Fitness for Ageless Living--to get the maximum benefits you need to do it for 3 non-consecutive days a week--2 at the minimum. Unfortunately, I often weight train only 1 day a week. If you want to build strong bones and prevent osteoporosis, and maintain your muscle strength as you age--weight-bearing exercise for the lower body, and weight-training for the upper body is a must-do! Yoga, helps with balance, preventing future falls, and building strength. As for core strength, I'm upping my game with Dr. Stuart McGill's routine, and my birthday-present to myself is the physical therapist-designed Pelvicore exercise ball.
3. A plant-based diet with minimal added fat. I'm nearing the 2 year mark on eating plant-based, so this is the easy part. I've got this down pat. I still use a little olive oil for cooking and in salads, and very occasionally eat some seafood or dairy when eating with friends. I'm convinced. If you want to lower your cholesterol, reduce your risk for type-2 diabetes, lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of heart disease & stroke, and reduce your belly fat--this is the way to go. Dr. David J. Jenkins of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto is one of the pre-eminent researchers on the benefits of a plant-based, low-glycemic diet (like beans, nuts, oats,& quinoa) for improving diabetes control, lowering cholesterol, and preventing cardiovascular disease. Click here for Jenkins research. And that's not all--keeping your blood sugar stable with low glycemic plant-based foods and exercise will preserve your brain. Click here. And as for too much fat--not only is it bad for your belly--it's bad for your brain--so just ditch it Click here.
4. No time urgency. This is what keeps the Okinawans calm, relaxed, and living longer. I'm really working on this one--which goes hand-in-hand with flexibility. Things don't always go as planned--you either go-with-the-flow or get stressed and anxious. My favorite 2 words, "Oh well." Life goes better when you stay in the moment, chill, and don't worry about getting there fast. When our Christmas Day trip to New York City was aborted because of an ice storm, we checked into a hotel at noon, and enjoyed a dinner of cranberry nut mix, Larabars, Cliff Bars, and clementines. All the restaurants were closed in this Pennsylvanian town. Oh well. We had a good time, and made it to New York safe and sound the next day.
5. More Dancing, Singing, Laughing, Playing, Schmoozing, and Mahjing. What's the point of staying healthy without having fun? That's the reason we work at staying healthy. Cool fact: There's a little organ deep in the ear, called the sacculus--and it gives us a great sense of pleasure and well-being when it's stimulated. But, it can only be stimulated through singing! So, bring on the Singstar Karaoke! Click here.
6. The Supplements. I'm really bad at regularly taking supplements. I'm good at counting them out, taking them to work, and bringing them back home with me. Truth is, there are some supplements worth taking because there's no easy way to get enough of them through diet alone. Here are my favorites: Omega-3s (I use Omega-Brite), DHA, (an omega-3 for brain health), Magnesium, Citracal, Vitamin D (I'm up to 3000 IUs), Curcumin (also known as turmeric, the yellow color in curry), and Juvenon (the combo of acetyl l-carnitine & alpha lipoic acid) developed by Dr. Bruce Ames. Click here to read more about what I take, and what some prominent physicians take.
7. Eliminate the time-wasters from my day. Except for watching "The Middle" or "Glee", TV watching always leaves me bored and unsatisfied. So, why bother wasting the precious time? The same goes for my mindless internet cruising, checking in more than necessary with email, the NYT, and other favorite sites. Enough already!
8. Maximize my peak energy times of the day. Over a year ago I blogged about getting in sync with our natural energy ebb and flow throughout the day. It works--and I intend to start planning my day around them, when possible. For instance, 9-11 is the peak time for brain work-creativity-and analytical work. On days when I don't work I would usually use this time for exercise & errands. Poor use of brain time. Better to exercise between 3-6. To read more, click here: Maximize Your Energy-Match Your Tasks to Your daily Energy Levels.
9. Give a gift a day for 29 days a month. When 36 year old Cami Walker of LA learned she had multiple sclerosis, her spirits flagged. She was tired, in pain, and had the prospect of a debilitating disease ahead of her. When a holistic health educator gave her the prescription of giving 29 gifts a day for a month she thought it sounded it crazy. Nothing big (and that's the point)--something like making a supportive phone call or saving a piece of yummy cake for her husband. Of course the prescription didn't cure her, but it had a startling effect of helping her cope with her illness and gave her a more positive outlook on life. I love this idea. It's a planned regular way to just think about kindness. No big acts, just something little-done everyday. To read more, click here.
10. Cultivate my garden of friends and family. Regular phone calls, visits, dinners, outings, and celebrations. At 60 there's no time to delay any of these. It's the glue that keeps us together and makes life worth living.
11. Once You're Through Learning--You're Through. This is the philosophy of John Wooden, the 97-year-old retired UCLA basketball coach. No doubt about it, learning and sharing what I learn is my purpose in life. I'm lucky to have a job that gives me access to learning about health and medicine, and a hobby that gives me a chance to share what I learn.
12. Start Eating Less. OK, I'm ready to shed a few pounds, and I know from past experience that writing down exactly what I eat, and how much I've exercised, really works. I use something called MyFoodDiary.com and it's set up with all my favorite recipes. Unfortunately, I haven't used it in quite some time. The new year is a great time to start! To read more about this tool, click here.
For some good reasons to eat less, read: CALERIE: The NIH Calorie-Restriction Experiment. Lessons for Health, Slowing Down the Aging Process, Longevity, and Disease Prevention
Time to end this list. I've already maximized my 9-11 brain time and written this post. It's now time to make my smoothie, do some core exercises, take those supplements, answer birthday phone calls, enjoy a birthday lunch, followed by an evening out with friends who all share the same wedding anniversary--if we can just make it through our foot of snow!
I'd love to hear from anyone who is 60 or over with advice, tips, and wisdom about maximizing life in the sixties, seventies, and more.