Do you want to live longer? I certainly do, but only if the extended life is full of health and vitality. My grandmother at the age of 78 suffered a debilitating stroke while traveling abroad. She could not get to the emergency room in time, so she ended up losing her ability to speak and walk.
I flew back to Honolulu from New York City once I heard the news. Every time I visited her in the assisted living facility I wrapped my sorrow in a box and put on a happy face. She would nod her head with excitement and try to murmur words of encouragement as I told her about the long hours working on Wall Street. After about 20 minutes, she would fade away and sleep. A week later she passed away.
Now that I’ve got us all depressed, let’s figure out the secrets to a longer life.
THE KEYS TO LIVING A LONGER LIFE
60 Minutes recently highlighted a terrific segment of a group of people in their 90s dubbed “The Oldest Old.” The Oldest Old are surprisingly the fastest growing segment of the US population despite the Millennial generation receiving all the attention. Our life expectancy has increased by 30 years to 79 from just 49 in 1900.
The 90+ year old participants of this survey at one point all lived in a community in Southern California called “Leisure World” aka Laguna Woods in 1981. Leisure World surveyed 14,000 of their residents with hundreds of pages of data about their exercise, diet, vitamins, and activities.
Dr. Claudia Kawas, a Neurologist and Professor at UCI proceeded to track down 1,600 of the survey’s survivors to find out their secrets of living into their 90s.
Here’s what she found:
* 45 minutes of exercise a day is optimum, while exercising as little as 15 minutes a day on average made a positive difference. Exercising for much longer than 45 minutes made no difference. The exercise doesn’t have to be all at once, neither does the exercise have to be intense.
* Book clubs, socializing, and board games, are all good. For every hour of activity, you increased your longevity (doesn’t say how much) and the benefits of these activities never wore off.
* Vitamins A, C, E, and calcium didn’t make a difference.
* Moderate alcohol up to two drinks a day led up to a 10-15% reduced risk of death compared to non alcohol drinkers.
* Drinking any kind of alcohol up to two drinks a day is fine. You don’t have to just drink wine.
* One to two cups of coffee a day are better than more cups of coffee or none
* Smokers died earlier.
* Gaining weight is good as you age. But it’s not good to be overweight while young or skinny when old.
ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE AND DEMENTIA
The second 13:24 minute segment of 60 Minutes discusses Alzheimer’s disease and dementia and what researchers have learned from analyzing patient’s brains with Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Here are some key points from this segment:
* It is a myth that if you get to 90, you won’t get Alzheimer’s and dementia. The risk of getting dementia doubles every five years starting at the age of 65.
* 40% of the time when doctors think a 90+ year old patient has dementia, they don’t have dementia.
* People can have microscopic strokes (microinfarcts) and not even know they are having them. The microinfarcts are totally silent while slowly disconnecting your cortex from your brain.
* If you have high blood pressure, you have LOWER risk of dementia in a 90+ year old. Doctors suspect low blood pressure may cause microscopic strokes.
* Romance is an important part of staying young and keeping your sanity.
* There are unfortunately many different variables that may be causing dementia. The theory is that after one too many hits, a person can’t stand them all and begins to rapidly lose their mind.
Life speed accelerates as we get older. We’re often so incredibly focused on our careers and making more money that we seldom stop to think about what it all means. Perhaps use this weekend to have a heart-to-heart with yourself and find out what you really want to do with your time. After you figure out what you want, fight like hell to get there.
Photo credit: Old buddies supporting each other in San Francisco, 2014, FS.