Beyond Genetics – Secrets to Help with Longevity

You are planning your 100th birthday, aren’t you? After all, with about 20% of the population having the genetic wherewithal to live to 100, and with enough research in the new field of “epigenetics” showing us how our lifestyle choices can alter our health at the level of our genes, why wouldn’t we be planning that celebration?
As Walter Bortz, II, M.D., Stanford Geriatrician, noted, “If you’re going to get old, you might as well get as old as you can get.” And let’s not blame our genes! While our genes control 25% to 40 % of our life and health span variability, placing us at levels of risk for heart disease, weight gain and depression, our lifestyle affects our health and longevity. Dr. Bortz says, “It’s not the cards you’re dealt with that matter most, it’s how you play your hand.”

Bortz, again, noted, “…natural life expectancy should conform to a bell-shaped curve, the extreme end of which is 120 years. If 120 is the far edge of the curve, where is the center? The answer is 100, meaning that 100 years of age is the median.”

Dr. Roger Landry, author of Live Long, Die Short, says 70% of the physical differences and 50% of the intellectual differences between older adults who are healthier in later years and those who aren’t, boil down to lifestyle choices.

Do you believe you can live to 100? That’s certainly step one. Based on that, how old you get depends on how you plan, not necessarily your family’s genes alone. Dr. Bortz claims that “decrepitude and loss are not predetermined but rather how you set your course is highly predictive of the journey you will take.” Let’s set that course.

Factors that can help you live longer

Harvard University tells us that aging is predicted by:

 Never smoking or stopping while young
 The ability to “turn lemons into lemonade”
 No alcohol abuse
 A stable marriage
 More than a high school education
 Not being overweight/obese

Further, according to Harvard’s “Aging Personality Profile,” here’s what matters most:

 The capacity for both gratitude and forgiveness
 The ability to see the world through the eyes of another
 The desire to do things with, and for, people
 Your choices matter
 Your character matters
 Your behavior matters
 Your education matters
 A future orientation and the ability to plan positively (“I figure if I can do this when I’m 85, I’ll be doing pretty well.”)

In his classic book, DARE to be 100, Dr. Bortz points out, “D for Diet, A for Attitude, R for Renewal (rest, recreation, retirement, resilience), E for exercise. Three of these components—D, R, and E—are the biological compass points for aiming for 100, but A—attitude—is the most important.”

PREVENT mortality? Here are the keys:

 Purpose - Feeling a sense of purpose in life leads to lower rates of mortality and better health.

 Relationships and renewal – Jonathan Haidt, author of “The How of Happiness” noted, “Having strong social relationships strengthens the immune system, extends life (more than does quitting smoking), speeds recovery from surgery, and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders.” Staying connected with social relationships impacts mortality. In fact, research shows that those who do have strong social relationships have half the mortality rates as those who are lonely. And the better the relationships one has, the more powerful is this survival effect. Want to improve your heart, immunity and mind? Be sure you aren’t living alone.

 Exercise - Engaging in physical activity for 30 to 45 minutes each day can cut your risks for health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and even cancer. In fact, Bortz notes, “Three hours of life can be gained for every hour spent exercising—a good bargain, no?”

 Volunteering - Volunteering later in life is associated with reduced risk of hypertension, enhanced cognition, delayed physical disabilities and lower mortality rates.

 Engagement in active work, meditation, watercolor painting and gardening. People who live to 100 have been found to work hard throughout their lives. In fact, some great advice to ignore, if your goal is to be a centenarian, is to “slow down.”

 Nutrition - Poor diets can lead to higher incidences of falls, problems with healing, and a weakened immune system.

 Trust/faith in something bigger than you - Nourishing one’s soul can cut risks from chronic illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and depression, and it’s been shown that people who live with faith have lower rates of suicide.

Dr. Roger Landry adds that maintaining a healthy brain with daily crossword puzzles, stress prevention, nutrition and exercise, learning new skills and active engagement that calls for memory activity, all play key roles in keeping our brains in good health.

Above all, as Dr. Bortz points out, is your attitude. Attitude, it turns out, contains all of the keys that facilitate your deciding to take the biological steps necessary to reach 100. Happy 100Th!

Dr. Michael Mantell

Michael R. Mantell, Ph.D. has been providing psychological and coaching services for nearly 5 decades and continues to empower positive change among his global clients to enhance life in every way. He is a highly sought-after healthcare professional coach, an executive and team building consultant, and a longtime specialist in cognitive behavioral coaching.

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