Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Lessons From Centenarians: Ingredients For Living Beyond 100

I recently finished reading The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who Lived the Longest by Dan Buettner.

This book documents the author's around-the-world search for the longest living people, which brought him to four longevity hot spots, places with a higher concentration of people living over the age of 100 then can be found anywhere else in the world.

These four longevity hot spots are:

1. Sardinia, Italy. The mountainous bargagia dwelling people on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Italy.
2. Okinawa, Japan. The indigenous island dwellers of Okinawa, Japan.
3. Loma Linda, California. The Christian Seven Day Adventists community in Loma Linda, California.
4. Costa Rica. The indigenous Nicoya of Costa Rica in Central America.

What did all of these centenarians have in common? What common ingredients did they share that may have contributed to their long and healthy life?

In a nutshell, the most common ingredients for longevity shared by all the centenarians profiled were:

  • A lifetime of regular low impact physical activity
  • low calorie, nutrient dense, unprocessed meals, with minimal meat
  • simple back to the land, low stress, slow paced lifestyle
  • relatively clean environment, with minimal exposure to industrial pollution, or other man-made environmental toxins
  • mild weather climate, with an abundance of fresh air and sunshine
  • a close network of family, friends, and community
  • a community based on shared spiritual values
  • happiness and contentedness, frequent smiles and laughter
  • a strong sense of meaning and purpose to their lives

All but the most modern city dwellers of Loma Linda California, lived what you could call rural peasant lifestyles, living somewhat primitively, close to the land, with minimal modern technological conveniences or distractions.

All lived simple relaxed paced low stress lifestyles, were close with their families, had many friends, had a strong sense of cultural cohesion, and shared community values based on a common spirituality and culture.

All were happy, content, had a good sense of humor, smiling and laughing often, having a sense of purpose to their lives, and a reason to get out of bed in the morning and continue living.

The physical activity favored by all, were low impact exercises having utilitarian value, especially walking for transportation, housework, gardening, landscaping, chopping wood, tending to animals, carrying groceries, etc. In other words, exercise was not something that was done just for the sake of exercising, it was not seen as being something separate from the daily activities of their lives, but was integrated into their daily patterns of work, transportation, and play.

All were fit, had strength and endurance, but none were super athletes, none were big muscle men, or marathon runners. They looked like average people, more like a slim tai chi practitioner, than a triathlete, or a body builder.

The idea was that low impact exercises, like walking, gardening, and carrying groceries, were more beneficial and more likely to promote longevity then high impact workouts, that wear your body down over time. Light weight lifting is okay, but huge muscleman body building work-outs may actually be self-defeating in the long run. Perhaps the same could be said about marathon running, which may be a great cardiovascular exercise, but its hard on your joints, and over time can ruin them. So regular walking may actually be more conducive to promoting longevity than running.

Most were primarily vegetarian, or if they did eat meat, if was lean cut, eaten minimally, perhaps only once or twice a weak, or reserved for special occasions. All ate low calorie nutrient dense meals containing whole grains, legumes, or tofu, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, and except for the seven day Adventists in Loma Linda California, most drank some alcohol with meals. The heaviest drinkers were the Sardinians, who primarily drank red wine, in copious amounts.

And no processed foods at all were consumed. Everything was fresh and in its whole unprocessed state, organically grown, often grown themselves in their own gardens, with no artificial additives or preservatives.

Another thing these centenarians had in common, beyond their longevity, was that they were all in pretty good health, many appearing to be 20 to 30 years younger than there actual age.

All stayed active, and many continued working well into their nineties, and in some cases even into their hundreds. And those who continued working well into old age, enjoyed what they did, they enjoyed their lives, and their livelihood, and it was perhaps their work that imbued their lives with its greatest meaning and pleasure.

So diet, environment, genetics, and frame of mind, certainly played a large role in contributing to their longevity, but the most noteworthy factor, in my opinion, that all shared without fail, seemed to be a lifetime of regular low impact exercise.

You've got to keep moving, keep your blood flowing, your bones strong, your body strong, flexible, and on the move. You can either use it or lose it, but just don't overuse it. Pace yourself, go slow and steady. What do you think you're in a race? Are you in a hurry or something? Eager to die? Because the faster you run, the faster you move through life, might just bring you closer to that final finish line then you think.

So slow down a bit and enjoy the view, because the slower you cruise, the better the view, and the longer it will last.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Strange Dream, BioFeedback Machine, Virtual Reality Stream

I had a very unusual dream last night, a very powerfully lucid dream. I was with my dad in his car, and he was speeding well above 100 MPH, and he misjudged a turn, and we crashed. The car was totaled, but we survived it. At first he appeared to be unconscious, but apparently was just a bit stunned, with some minor injuries. Got out of the car wreck and found that we were right outside my old high school, which was on the fringe of a predominantly black ghetto, with many rough gangsta thugs standing around in groups checking us out.

My dad went inside my high school ostensibly to get help, where for some reason I waited outside alone, but nobody gave me any trouble.

Seemed like hours went by, with no sign of my dad. So finally I went into the school. Normal classes were not in session. There appeared to be some type of military, law enforcement, and martial arts training being conducted in the hallways. Rows of soldiers in training, both children and adults were standing in line in the hallways. Their uniforms were tactical gray camouflage, for urban warfare.

I ventured down into the basement without speaking to anyone, and passed by several people lifting weights. I came into a more normal looking office lobby, but it too was in the basement. At the counter were a few of my old teachers. Mary Ann, an English teacher, and Diane, my psychology, civics, and French teacher. Yeah at my school we addressed our teachers by their first names. I was going to ask them if they would page my dad, so I could talk to him. I asked Mary Ann, but before I could say anything else she says, so Cym it's been 15 years, have you become a famous writer yet?

I stammer, and say, no, but that I still write all the time, and have a blog, but I don't make any money at it. My complete attention was on Mary Ann, but then Diane speaks, where she asked something along the lines of why I don't like her. I guess because I must have been ignoring her or something. I was like, that's not true.

But then before I know it she gave me some ticket, key, or hand held electronic device, and directed me over to another room where there was some sort of psychological workshop or experiment being conducted. She pointed over to some booths containing some type of biofeedback, EEG, and virtual reality brain stimulation machines.

I was lead into a little isolated booth, seated in a chair, where I put on dark glasses, headphones, and some EEG brain electrodes. The booth that I was brought to was intended to stimulate one to revisit the emotional experiences associated with childhood. The glasses contained a computer screen, feeding me a collage of changing images of people and places, meant to trigger certain emotional states, and to monitor the users responses to them.

I think the implication was that there was something I failed to learn in childhood that was holding back my psychological evolution as an adult. There were several other people sitting in their own booths, and different booths were associated with the different psychological and emotional stages of human maturation and development.

I remember feeling relaxed by it, and after wards wanted to try out different level machines, but before I could, I guess I woke up.