“To what do you attribute your longevity?” is a question I like to ask my patients over ninety. They almost always have interesting insights like hard work, leading a clean life, getting out for fresh air and exercise every day, or the right parents.
The life expectancy of Americans has approximately doubled over the last century. The average American today lives seventy-eight years; males typically make it to age seventy-four, and females to age eighty. Scientists estimate the maximum potential human life span at 120 years, and in fact the longest well-documented human life was 122 years.
Longevity has been assumed to be mostly a matter of being born with the right genes, but experts tell us that only about one-third of aging is attributable to genetics. You have much more control over the aging process than you probably have imagined. Of course, you will age more gracefully if you exercise daily, maintain a healthy weight, eat right, and don’t smoke or abuse alcohol. But learning how to effectively cope with and avoid stress is also a major factor in living a long and vigorous life.
Among the strongest predictors of who will live to advanced ages are traits like optimism, volunteerism, and an ability to work through problems and still maintain enthusiasm and love of life. A recent study showed that people who live a century or more have several traits in common:
• A positive, yet realistic attitude
• An adventurous love of life
• A strong will
• Spiritual beliefs
• An ability to renegotiate life when necessary
• An insistence on aggressive medical care when necessary
• A sense of humor
The real beauty of these findings is that many of the same things that make life pleasurable - an ability to laugh, having faith, a happy outlook, a love of adventure, curiosity, and loving relationships - are the very same factors that will keep you alive and well for 100 years. Other characteristics of centenarians like strong will, the flexibility to renegotiate life, and willingness to find expert medical help when needed are crucial to overcoming the mental and physical maladies that we all develop sooner or later.
About 80 percent of chronic serious medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and so on are preventable with the right diet, lifestyle, attitudes, and medical care. Today more than ever, staying healthy is not a matter of fate, genes, or luck, but rather a function of your lifestyle and diet and how well you monitor your health and respond to the problems that will inevitably appear.
In Good Health,
James O'Keefe, MD
Photo Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons