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Habits of the healthiest oldest

February 5th, 2014

hunza elderHealthspan – our years of healthy living – is what it’s all about. Many people focus on lifespan, the total number of years we live. But if that total includes 20 (or 10 even 2) frail, debilitated, medicated years at the end of life, who would opt for a longer lifespan if it didn’t also include a simultaneously longer healthspan? Not me. Not you.

The truth is, we’ve managed to significantly increase our lifespan (through drugs, surgeries and heroic end-of-life extensions with various interventions) – without increasing healthspan. So we’re are living longer, but with extra years of unhealthy, unenjoyable years tacked on at the end. Our old age is most often old, enfeebled age.

Does it have to be this way? No. Resounding no.

Suppose we take a lesson from those cultures on our planet that combine long lifespans with equally long healthspans. Who are the healthiest, longest lived people on earth live? And what do they do that we don’t? Listen up.

In 2000, the World Health Organization reported that Okinawa had the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world—the longest, healthiest lives. Life expectancy is up to 10 years longer there with sixth the rate of cardiovascular disease and fifth the rate of the big cancers like colon and breast. Diabetes is rare. Three other communities – the Abkhasians (Russia), the Vilcabambans (Ecuador), the Hunzas (Pakistan) – rank right up there too. In these so-called Blue Zones, a significant number of people live to be over 100, have 20/20 vision, perfect hearing, desirable cholesterol levels, clear arteries, strong teeth, strong bones and good memories. This means – and please hear this – it is biologically possible to age this way. This people have shown that the human body – your human body, my human body – can maintain biological youth while advancing chronologically.

These four cultures from four very different parts of the world, with different histories, different beliefs and philosophies, different climates and geography, have striking similarities that those who have studied them extensively (from cultural anthropologists to cardiologists, dieticians to dentists) believe are the “secrets” to their impressive life/healthspans. Here they are:

*The older people are fully integrated into the working life of their communities
*They live with a sense of purpose
*They maintain close relationships across generations
*Physical activity is a natural part of everyday life
*Their diet includes no refined or processed (or “fast”) foods
*Their diet is primarily plant-based (they eat meat less than 1x per week)
*They eat big breakfasts
*They seem to laugh a lot

It is interesting – and vital – to note that, in these communities, “aging” is not demonized. It is not a bad thing to be (chronologically) old. But neither are older people revered. They are merely (merely!) an ongoing, vital part of the life of their communities.

The “secrets” to these counterclockwise lifestyles are clear-cut and simple – and, I am sure you’ve noted, involve no expensive magic elixirs or celebrity-endorsed treatments. No one is taking hormones. No one is hanging out in CrossFit gyms. Makes ‘ya think, huh? What I’m thinking is: These are my personal marching orders. Join me?


One Response to “Habits of the healthiest oldest”

  1. MikeWon on February 6, 2014 3:52 am

    We’ve always known sugars, bleaches & poisons in fake foods are deadly!
    Move more! Eat less! Eat organic! Fowl IS foul! Pork is for porkers! Milk is for babies! Beer is good food! If it isn’t organic, the poisons & suicide are included in the price!
    ~ mikewondoctrine ~

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