Part 1: Quality Longevity -- Living Longer, Younger, and Healthier
"It is not enough to add years to one's life...one must also add life to those years."
-- John F. Kennedy
You're savoring your ritual cappuccino across the street from your dentist's office when this incredibly handsome young guy sits down two tables over. Your eyes meet his and he smiles seductively -- you practically choke. You could swear you know him from somewhere....He gives you a little wave. Where the heck could you know him from? He's so young. And you've been married a long time. Oh my god, he's coming over! Could this amazing hunk possibly be hitting on you? Ridiculous. No way! Thank God you just had your teeth cleaned. He grins broadly. "Hi! Remember me?!" You're completely at a loss. "I'm Andy! Andy Carter! I was on your son's basketball team in middle school." You freeze with a ridiculous smile on your face and a sudden urge to evaporate into thin air.
Age reminders happen to everyone. It could be as simple as the appearance of a single gray hair, the first time someone calls you "Ma'am," or perhaps walking into a room and forgetting the reason why. None of us can stop time, but we can slow down the effects of aging -- and sometimes even reverse them.
A mere 100 years ago, people were lucky to live beyond age 40. Now, life expectancy has risen to age 74 for men and 80 for women, and recent studies show that the average 65-year-old American can expect to live another 17 years. Modern medical science is striving to keep us alive well into our 90s and beyond, and most people say they want to live as long as possible. But who wants to live to be 100 without their health, vitality, and faculties intact? That's where the Eight Essentials of "The Longevity Bible" come in -- showing us how to keep it all together -- our brains, our bodies, and our attitudes.
The Eight Essentials
Traditionally, magazine and television advertisers have focused their marketing strategies on youthful looks and attitudes to attract consumers to their products. Recently, however, there has been a shift in tactics. Today, Madison Avenue's emphasis is not so much on youthful demographics but on "psychographics" -- marketing focused toward the age group in which consumers actually perceive themselves to be. Try asking baby boomers how old they consider themselves, not in actual calendar years, but mentally and physically. Many will confess they still have the attitude of a 25-year-old and feel nowhere near their chronological age.
Most of us protest against the idea of aging in the way our parents did and vow to fight against the process as long as possible. We are looking for a safe, convenient, medically sound way to live longer, empower ourselves, and remain healthy and fulfilled throughout that long life -- what I refer to as "quality longevity."
Empowering ourselves for the future requires learning new skills, as well as honing the ones we already have. In my last book, "The Memory Prescription," I showed how we could jump-start our brain and body fitness by focusing on four of the basic essentials: achieving mental sharpness, physical fitness, a healthy diet, and stress reduction. Now, in "The Longevity Bible," I outline my entire program -- all Eight Essentials -- to allow every one of us to achieve our own maximum, quality longevity in every area of our lives. These essential strategies include keys to keeping a positive outlook, cultivating healthy relationships, getting the most out of modern medicine, and adapting and flourishing in a changing environment.
We'll look at the science behind the Eight Essentials, and at simple and practical ways for integrating them into our daily life. When practiced together, these Eight Essentials create a synergy that achieves positive results faster and far more effectively than could be achieved by doing them individually.
Fix Your Brain First: The Rest Will Follow
We begin our longevity solution by sharpening our minds (Essential 1) and maximizing our brain fitness. Fix your brain for longevity, and your body will follow in kind. By keeping our minds sharp, we are more inclined to stay physically fit, enhance our relationships, maintain a longevity diet, and follow the other healthy lifestyle strategies outlined in this book. In fact, all the Essentials contribute to keeping our brains young, fit, and cognitively strong throughout all stages of life. Simply doing mental aerobics can significantly improve memory skills and, when combined with the other Essentials, may extend life expectancy. A recent study found that mentally stimulating leisure activities such as reading, doing crossword puzzles, or playing board games lowers the risk for Alzheimer's disease by nearly a third.
Scientific evidence shows that keeping a positive outlook (Essential 2) helps us stay healthy and live longer. In a recent study, positive and satisfied middle-aged people were twice as likely to survive over a period of 20 years, as compared to more negative individuals. Optimists have fewer physical and emotional difficulties, experience less pain, enjoy higher energy levels, and are generally happier and calmer. Positive thinking has been found to boost the body's immune system so we can better fight infection.
When we feel good, it boosts our self-confidence, which helps us have better relationships (Essential 3). The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging found that people who are socially connected may survive up to 20 percent longer than those who live more isolated lives. Today, we have many tools to help us connect with others, shore up self-doubt, and make ourselves feel and look younger and more beautiful, both through medical and nonmedical techniques. Despite the myth that libido declines with age, several scientific studies have found that our desire and need for sex continues throughout our lives. A healthy sex life at every age helps lower blood pressure, reduce stress, ward off depression, boost the immune system, diminish pain, maintain physical fitness, and even extend life expectancy.
Stress is among the leading causes of age-related disease (Essential 4). It contributes to physical pain, as well as to the appearance of wrinkles and premature aging. Few people realize that our ability to adapt to our ever-changing environments can greatly contribute to lowering our stress levels. Whether it's traffic, smoke, clutter, noise, mold, smog, or information overload, our quality longevity depends upon our ability to adjust to these environmental influences (Essential 5). Personalizing our immediate surroundings, at home and at work, is an important environmental element that is within our control.
It is much easier to maintain a positive attitude when we enjoy good health, and the best way to ensure that is by eating a healthy diet and staying physically fit. With so many fitness options available, there is bound to be something that appeals to just about everybody. Along with the basics of tennis, jogging, cycling, swimming, and yoga, many people are getting fit with Pilates, weight training, Bosu ball, spinning, salsa dancing, ballet, trail running, and more. Essential 6 will introduce the Longevity Fitness Routine, which covers cardiovascular conditioning, balance and flexibility work, and strength training -- the three vital fitness areas for maximizing health, boosting energy levels, and preventing many age-related diseases. Recent research has found that regular physical activity can add two or more years to an individual's life expectancy.
Reducing the clutter in our lives is a powerful way to lower stress levels. Just as it feels good to occasionally clean out your closet and get rid of the clutter there, it can sometimes become necessary to reduce relationship clutter -- clean your emotional house -- and conserve your energy for the people you love or care about. At times, relationships may become more damaging than they are enriching -- old friendships that were once meaningful can become simply old habits that may have negative effects but are hard to break.
A healthy diet can have a major impact on life expectancy by lowering our risk for heart disease, cancer, and other age-related illnesses. Longitudinal studies have found that a diet that emphasizes the right food choices and helps people stay at their target body weight can increase survival rates by 50 percent or more. We'll learn about the Longevity Diet (Essential 7), a healthy diet plan that allows you to eat all of your favorite foods -- even naughty desserts. It incorporates the best scientific data on healthful eating for longevity and weight control, combined with some of the most satisfying and delicious foods available. Just as fitness experts now tell us that for long-range health, it's best to cross-train our bodies by emphasizing aerobics one day, weight training the next, and perhaps yoga the day after that, the Longevity Diet shows us how to cross-train our eating, allowing us to break free of the boredom and repetition of today's popular low-carbohydrate, South Florida, salmon-every-meal diets. We can enjoy a barbecued steak and a Caesar salad one day and a delicious pasta dinner with whole-grain crusty bread the next. The Longevity Diet allows our bodies to break free of today's fashionable diets and learn to process all good foods in realistic portions, while feeling sated, satisfied, and anything but deprived.
We will look at the latest in medicines and treatments designed to keep us young (Essential 8). From smart drugs to Botox to microscopic lasers, we'll learn about the options available to keep us looking and feeling youthful throughout our lives. Even simply taking drugs to lower blood pressure has been shown to increase life expectancy by at least two or more years, and scientists have found that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can increase survival rates of heart patients by more than 50 percent.
Many baby boomers may recall the 1960s Harvard professor who traveled to India and became the guru known as Ram Dass. His "Be here now" message became the mantra for staying in the moment, neither worrying about the past nor stressing over the future. His message echoes that of many other teachers, ranging from Martin Buber to Lao-Tzu.
We don't have to become spiritual gurus to live a long, healthy life, but attempting to stay in the moment helps us achieve quality longevity. Mindfulness or mindful awareness -- the subtle process of moment-to-moment awareness of one's thoughts, feelings, and physical states -- is key to sharpening memory and staying mentally fit. Initial research suggests that this ability not only reduces stress and anxiety, but also boosts the immune system and promotes health and healing for a variety of medical illnesses and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and chronic pain.
This underlying principle of mindful awareness can be applied to nearly all of the Eight Essential Strategies. Having an awareness of our bodies and what is going on around us helps us maintain balance and avoid danger. Awareness of our internal sensations reminds us to stop eating when we are sated -- a key to maintaining our target body weight. By integrating mindful awareness into our daily lives, we not only enjoy ourselves more and live longer, we take better care of ourselves, have a more positive outlook, and feel more empathy toward others.
Mindfulness often fosters a sense of spirituality, and several studies have found that people who pursue some form of spirituality live longer. Recently, investigators found that visiting a house of worship just once a week can extend life expectancy by nearly a decade. Studies of patients with chronic physical illnesses have found that those who believed in God had a 30 percent lower mortality rate as compared with those who felt abandoned by God. The increased longevity benefits of spirituality result from many of its forms, including religion, meditation, a personal belief in a higher power, and more.
Many of the benefits of the Eight Essentials can be achieved in a remarkably short period -- as little as 14 days. My research team at UCLA conducted controlled studies to test how well volunteer subjects could improve their brain and body fitness by focusing on just four of the essential strategies: mental aerobics, physical fitness, stress management, and a healthy diet.
We found that after just two weeks, the volunteers who followed the healthy longevity lifestyle program (as opposed to the control group who merely continued their usual behavior) experienced improved memory performance and brain efficiency. They also reported greater levels of relaxation and lower levels of stress. We observed significant physical health benefits as well. Many volunteers on the program lost weight and experienced a significant decline in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Shirley's experience was similar to that of many other subjects in the study for whom these essential longevity strategies improved memory and reduced stress, as well as lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Scientific evidence indicates that adopting these lifestyle strategies not only lowers the risk for Alzheimer's disease, but actually increases life expectancy -- making us live longer -- while adding to the quality of those years.
Quality Longevity for the Long Haul
Large-scale, longitudinal aging studies, including the MacArthur Study of Successful Aging, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the Leisure World Cohort Study, and many others, have yielded scientific findings that add to the foundation of "The Longevity Bible." The MacArthur Study found that staying connected through social relationships as we get older is linked to longer and better living. A healthy emotional life -- founded on intimacy and strong relationships -- is associated with a more positive mental state as well as improved physical health and function. Another key finding is that it's almost never too late (or too early) to make healthy lifestyle choices and instigate changes to achieve quality longevity.
Whether we are approaching our 40s, 50s, 60s, or more, we all face the challenges and rewards of aging. Studies on successful aging have shown that only one third of what predicts how well we age is controlled by genetics. Approximately two-thirds is based on our personal lifestyle choices and, therefore, under our own control.
As we learn about the Eight Essentials, we will see how our psychologist, Shirley, and several others tackle the bumps and hurdles that so many of us face as we get older. We will learn how to apply the Eight Essentials, quickly and easily, and begin living a quality longevity lifestyle. If it's true that we're only as young as we feel, then it's time to start feeling, looking, and acting younger today.
Excerpted from "The Longevity Bible" by Dr. Gary Small. Copyright 2006 Gary Small, M.D. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
Book Excerpt from "The Longevity Bible" by Gary Small, M.D.
Part 1: Quality Longevity -- Living Longer, Younger, and Healthier