There has been much talk in the media and the intellectual health communities about longevity and increasing one’s life span. Topics such as cryogenics -freezing oneself after death, and getting transfused with the blood of young people draw the interest and curiosities of many. Fortunately for all of us there are some safe and time-honored ways to improve health and longevity without waiting for anti-aging technology.
First, I’ll summarize some recent research and then give you the Leader’s Workout approach to longevity.
The scientific journal Circulation published a study called Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population: Circulation. 2018;138:345–355. They identified 5 lifestyle-related factors that can help “prolong life expectancy in US adults.”
- Healthy Diet (“vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and low intakes of red and processed meats, sugar sweetened beverages, trans fat, and sodium”).
- Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes
- Healthy weight (defined as a BMI of 18-25)
- Moderate alcohol consumption (defined as no more than 1/3 to 2 servings daily)
- Do not smoke
The average life span of men and women without any of these 5 factors is about 75 years for men and 79 years for women. For those men and women who had all 5 factor the average life span was 87 years and 93 years, respectively.
The National Institute of Aging has identified 8 factors to prolong life:
- Move daily for at least 45 minutes
- Get at least 7.5 hours of sleep 5x/week
- Get at least 3 servings of vegetables daily
- Have at least 3 true friends:
- You actually like
- Have meaningful conversations with
- Can call on a bad day
- Belong to a faith-based community and participate in at least 4x/month
- No smoking for at least 5 years
- No unprotected sex for the last 5 years
- Belief that you have the health and desire to live to at least 90 y.o.
Here’s how men and women can score on the 8 factors:
- 2 positive answers: Men live to 68 years old; women 71 years old
- 5 positive answers: Men live to 79 year old; women 83 years old.
- 7 positive answers: Men live to 88 years old; women 92 years old.
Being a super ager is not easy. Approximately 1/5,000 Americans live until 100. However, these are for the most part simple if not easy steps anyone can take to expand their health and life span. Some of these are just common sense such as not smoking. Others are vague but have some nuggets of truth. For example, the healthy diet recommendations – whole grains, red meats, sodium- are not in themselves necessarily good or bad; personalization matters. Body Mass Index is helpful but has limitations, not least because it doesn’t take into account the importance of muscle mass or body fat.
The 8 Institute of Aging factor build on the Power 5 and add more depth than what one would find from a typical medical scientist’s recommendations. Most are worthy goals and should be attempted by all. Getting more sleep, being part of shared communities, expressing faith, being active, having true friends, eating ones vegetables, not smoking, and avoiding obesity are undoubtedly what our grandmothers would recommend.
To maximize your longevity – ‘to add years to your life and life to your years’ – you should focus on a deeper way. Here is the Leader’s Workout philosophy to healthy aging:
- One should strive for being strong in the Physics, (from the Greek for nature or physical) and Meta Physics, of Health and Survival
- The wisdom of a culture is more important that the prestige of science.
- Places of longevity are usually found in isolated regions which retain traditions better, these inhabitants have abundance within isolation. Far too many people who live in places we reside suffer from the curse of modernity, isolation within abundance.
- Embrace an Ascetic Discipline. Leave the City and go to the Desert or Mountain- metaphorically if not actually: Aim for regular silence, simplicity, and solitude.
- Modern culture, like the food and environment is “toxic.” Plan accordingly.
- Cultivate harmony and wholeness rather than the modern emphasis on strife and fragmentation.
- Don’t eat “crap” i.e. anything that you forefathers would not recognize.
- Be careful and on alert if you eat out, it is challenging to one’s health. The abundance of vegetable oils and artificial ingredients are harmful to our cells. Herbal teas and colorful foods can help to blunt these negative effects.
- Most diets can be done in a healthy way and share common traits. Focus on the common good of most diets and not the differences.
- Try fasting. It may be all the current rage but traditional cultures have been practicing this for ages. Both caloric and dietary restriction can be beneficial.
- To paraphrase some ancient wisdom, who you eat with may be more important than what you eat.
- Strain your muscles regularly and get stronger. As Mark Rippetoe has stated, “Stronger people are harder to kill and more useful in general.”
- Don’t just exercise, focus on climbing. Studies have shown that within foci of healthy regions (Sardinia and Greece) those living in mountainous regions were healthier and more fit than their brethren living on the plains or seaside. Physical activity is thought to be the key difference.
- Get outdoors and don’t be afraid of the sun.
- Partake in regular walks and contemplate the Cosmos.
- Some like it hot! Embrace hyperthermiae. heat and sweating. All cultures have utilized saunas, steam, and baths. We are now learning these have many health benefits.
- Gain wisdom thru hardship.
- Strive to emphasize Plutarchian Virtues. Focus on character and ethics which is more important than knowledge.
- Push past the unpleasantness of intense effort, both mental and physical. Recent research has shown that this may be one of the keys to becoming a “Super Ager”.
- Understand and try to overcome, what the great Alex Pattakos has termed, “The Crisis of Meaning.” As he movingly describes, our path of individualism, pursuit of wealth and material gain, and use of technology as the primary means of connecting has led to a fragmentation of body, mind, and spirit. Aim instead for authentic connections, engagement with deep purpose, and embrace the fullness of life with enthusiasm, energy, and joy.
Sacrament of the present moment. Focus on being watchful and engaged in the present. To paraphrase the eloquent British Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware, the Greek term is Nepsis -wakefulness and sobriety. The spiritual life should be attentive and vigilant, not full of aimless drifting under the influence of passing impulses. Aim to posses a sense of direction and purpose to be present where you are, gathering in to the here and now. All too often we are scattered and dispersed; we are living not with alertness in the present but with nostalgia in the past, or with misgiving and wishful thinking for the future. Anxiety over remote possibilities which lie together beyond our immediate control is sheer waste of our spiritual energies.