Dr. Allison Lamont, Brain and Memory Foundation.
Centenarians are a growing sector of the population. But just living to be 100 isn’t enough! If we live to have our special birthday cards from the Queen and Prime Minister, we want to be enjoying a rich, interesting life – not be ‘just breathing’.
Extraordinary research over the past few years has made it clear that genes are only responsible for about 30% of our longevity – the rest is up to us!
That is startling news – we can’t choose our family, but we can choose our lifestyle.
National Geographic writer Dan Buettner spent time in the parts of the world with the highest numbers of healthy, alert centenarians. He interviewed these wonderful people and discovered what he calls ‘the nine secrets to longevity’. Secrets? I don’t think so. More like common sense! And even more exciting to me is that the very lifestyle factors leading to longevity are exactly the same as we know bring about brain and memory health. Two wonderful rewards for the price of one.
So, what do we need to do?
1. Move naturally:
We don’t have to have a huge, strenuous exercise regime of weights, running long distances, or spending hours in the gym (thank goodness!). But move naturally – enjoy your garden, stand and walk a little more, use stairs, sweep instead of using the vacuum cleaner sometimes.
2. Have a sense of purpose:
This is vitally important. A sense of purpose could be interpreted ‘why I wake up in the morning’ – maybe it is an interest in helping young people, or looking after animals, keeping up social contacts or working in your local charity store. Research reports that knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. That’s huge!
3. Take a step back from stressful situations:
Notice I don’t say ‘avoid stress’. No one can do that – everyone experiences it sometimes. It is part of life. But chronic stress and worry are stressors which lead to illness. The longest-lived people have routines that help to shed stress – maybe it is taking a nap, having happy hour, prayer, taking a regular few moments to think about ancestors – all stress-busters.
4. Adopt the 80% rule:
In his interviews, Dan Buettner was surprised at how often this was mentioned by healthy centenarians: stopping eating when the stomach is about 80% rather than ‘stuffed’.
The 20% gap between no longer feeling hungry and feeling full can well be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. Try not to eat right before bedtime.
5. Eat Plants:
Vegetables have so many advantages – flavour, variety, colour, and a myriad of health-giving nutrients.
6. Drink wine:
Research shows that a glass of wine a day – especially if shared with friends and food, is good for us. Moderate drinkers can outlive non-drinkers!
Almost all of the interviewed centenarians belonged to some type of regularly-meeting community. Research shows that attending such groups, particularly for faith-based communities, will add 4 – 14 years of life expectancy.
8. Family First:
Successful centenarians have put family first in their lives – whether it was earlier care for their own parents, or investing time and love in their children. Commitment to others is vital to well-being.
9. Choose your social circle carefully:
Studies show that smoking, obesity, happiness, and loneliness are contagious. Social networks of long-lived people have favourably shaped their health behaviours – seek out positive people!
These are all common-sense, wellness-promoting, fun things to do!
Dr. Allison Lamont is founder and clinician at the Auckland Memory Clinic. With her sister she has created the Brain and Memory Foundation – visit our website. You may like to join a Brain Fit for Life class if you are living in the Auckland area to learn the tips and strategies needed for a healthy brain and sharp memory. My telephone number is (09) 575 5432 or email [email protected] if you would like to contact me.