News at NCH
"How To Live To One Hundred" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO


How To Live To One Hundred

April 15, 2010 - A long and healthy life – isn't that what most of us want?

Because of where we live, we actually have a "leg up" on that goal. Collier County has the distinction of having the fourth longest life span in the country at 80.1 years, a full 10 years longer than the shortest life span county in Florida.

What about the bigger picture on living longer? Five areas in the world have groups of people who have a significantly longer life span than most Americans, according to Dan Buettner. He is a National Geographic explorer who has traveled the globe to uncover the best strategies for longevity. Dan's book is The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest.

Japan currently has the longest live expectancy, when measured at birth, of 82.5 years. Closely behind are Hong Kong, Iceland, Switzerland and Australia. The United States, as a whole, ranks 38th at 78.2 years, just behind Cuba. The entire ranking is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

Japan currently has the longest live expectancy, when measured at birth, of 82.5 years. Closely behind are Hong Kong, Iceland, Switzerland and Australia. The United States, as a whole, ranks 38th at 78.2 years, just behind Cuba. The entire ranking is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_life_expectancy

But for citizens of any country, there is a wide variation on life expectancy. Some of the factors:

     

  • Genetics (you can't change your genes—yet).
  • Gender (women live longer and their life expectancy is growing faster than men's).
  • Socio-economic (poorer people don't do as well).

And there are many other factors, such as early childhood care, nutrition, access to healthcare, even your underlying personality.

If we take an honest look in the mirror, most of us have real opportunities to improve life span. Childhood diabetes caused by obesity may cause this generation of children to predecease their parents. "Affluenza," or having too much of good things such as food or comfort, can have damaging effects on one's health. By many estimates, 70% of current illnesses are self inflicted.

Childhood diabetes caused by obesity may cause this generation of children to predecease their parents. "Affluenza," or having too much of good things such as food or comfort, can have damaging effects on one's health. By many estimates, 70% of current illnesses are self inflicted.

Even so, some governmental demographers anticipate life expectancy in the United States will be in the mid-80s by 2050 and will top out eventually in the low 90s. That's barring major scientific advances that can change the rate of human aging itself, as opposed to merely treating the effects of aging as we do today.

But remember, there are already areas around the world where people live longer and better. Here is author Dan Buettner on what he has found:

"I've been taking teams of scientists to five pockets around the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives. We call these places the Blue Zones. We found a Bronze-age mountain culture in Sardinia, Italy, that has 20 times as many 100-year-olds as the U.S. does, proportionally. In Okinawa, Japan, we found people with the longest disability-free life expectancy in the world. In the Blue Zones (Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, Calif.; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica), people live 10 years longer, experience a sixth the rate of cardiovascular disease and a fifth the rate of major cancers."

 

Buettner noted nine common habits among the inhabitants of these "blue zones." These are all good and understandable habits. As you read down the list, think how much better and longer our lives would be if we just started with one or two of these steps, and then took aim at the rest of them.

1) Move naturally. Be active without thinking about it. Identify activities you enjoy and make them a part of your day.

     

  • Inconvenience yourself: ditch the remote, the garage door opener, the leaf-blower; buy a bike, broom, rake, and snow shovel.
  • Have fun by being active. Ride a bike instead of driving, for example.
  • Walk! Nearly all the centenarians we've talked to take a walk every day.


2) Cut calories by 20 percent. Practice "Hara hachi bu," the Okinawan reminder to stop eating once their stomachs are 80 percent full.

     

  • Serve yourself, put the food away, then eat.
  • Use smaller plates, plates, bowls, and glasses.
  • Sit down and eat. Don't eat in the car or standing in front of the fridge.


3) A plant-based diet. No, you don't need to become a vegetarian, but do bump up your intake of fruits and veggies.

     

  • Use beans, rice or tofu as the anchor to your meals.
  • Eat nuts! Have a 2-ounce handful of nuts daily. (That will stop you from digging in the bag of chips.)


4) Drink red wine (in moderation).

     

  • Keep a bottle of red wine near your dinner table.
  • Keep the daily intake to two servings or less.


5) Plan de Vida: determine your life purpose.

     

  • Why do you get up in the morning?
  • Write your own personal mission statement.
  • Take up a new challenge—learn a language or an instrument.


6) Down shift. Take time to relieve stress. You may have to literally schedule it into your day, but relaxation is key.

     

  • Don't rush. Plan on being 15 minutes early.
  • Cut out the noise. Limit time spent with the television, computer, or radio on.


7) Participate in a spiritual community.

     

  • Deepen your existing spiritual commitment.
  • Seek out a new spiritual or religious tradition.


8) Put loved ones first.

     

  • Make family a priority. Establish family rituals (game night, family walks, Sunday dinners).
  • Show it off: create a place for family pictures and souvenirs that shows how you're all connected.
  • Get closer: consider downsizing to a smaller home to promote togetherness.


9) Pick the right tribe. The people surrounding you have a big influence on your health.

     

  • Identify your inner circle. Be surrounded by those who share the values of Blue Zones.
  • Reconsider ties to people who bring you down.

Can I guarantee these steps will let you live to one hundred? Sorry, but life doesn't work that way.

But I can guarantee that any one of these nine suggestions will help add a little time to your life—and any one of the nine should make the quality of your life better today and every day.

 


 

Past Health Advice Articles

Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.