All About Living a Long…Long Life
Longevity: To Be or Not to Be is that the Question?
By: J. Marlando
As long as we are in at least average, good mental and physical health we all want to live as long as we can. And trust me young people, stuff like interest, enthusiasm and the competitive spirit does not wane just because your mirror reflects a wrinkled up old coot that resembles a prune much more than A plumb.
We’d all like to find a “fountain of youth” but Ma Nature in her wisdom keeps the eternal dance of birth and death in its loop for all living things. The Forget-Me-Nots outside my window will be wilting away in the fall but new ones will be sprouting, growing and blossoming next spring and so the cycle goes throughout the universe.
We are extremely proud of our modern longevity which is around 77 years for men and 81 years for women. Lots of people are living longer than this with the number of centenarians growing.
If you are somewhere between diapers and thirty, you might be thinking 77 years is plenty but, when you are 77 you will change your mind—there is a lot of life to enjoy and you might even appreciate it a little more when that old prune is looking back from the mirror at you one of these days.
Interestingly enough back in the 1850s, in England and U.S., if a person made it to 50, he or she was said to have had a long life. In the Middle Ages a person was considered long-lived if he or she made it past 40. Yet, going back a few thousand years Socrates was going strong at 70 until they sentenced him to do himself in for, most basically, not following the yellow line of his society. The point, however, is that he certainly enjoyed longevity for his times and he would not have been alone so how does one analyze lifespan beyond the numbers?
Socrates (469-399 B.C.)
The intent of this article is to suggest a path leading to a long…long life. However, before you read on, you need to know that I am not, nor do I claim to be a nutritionist, a dietician or a physical culturist. Indeed, I have spent most of my life in an “eat, drink and be merry” mode so if you are a person who weighs your protein, insists on sea salt and looks at McDonald’s as public enemy #1, you will probably find this article to be disgusting and therefore, if you will, non-digestive. Thus, stop reading now because I believe that hatefulness, anger and stress are major causes of early demise.
Before we get into theory, however, let’s talk about what the experts really know.
Who Lives the Longest?
Where do you think people live the longest (generally) on our planet?
First, there is Okinawa Japan. Okinawans; it appears, actually age slower than the rest of the world. This is worth dwelling on for a few moments: First of all the Okinawa Centenarian Study is based on verifiable information. And so after examining over 900 Okinawan centenarians and many others in their 70s, 80s and 90s, it is scientifically concluded that they “must” have a genetic advantage over the rest of us. I’m going to talk about that a little later on because I resist most of today’s gene worship by scientists who believe we’re all mere gene-machines and nothing more.
Anyway, it is well known that the folks on Okinawa, most typically, stay healthy into older ages.
The second place where long life is the norm is Ovodda a small mountain town in Sardinia. A surprising statistic about Ovodda is not only their high percentage of centenarians but also that the men there live as long as women do.
Okay, at this juncture, you dyed-in-the-wool DNA fanatics are saying—ah ha, you see there is something in their genes but guess what—folks who migrate there at ages 20, 30 or 40, on average, manage to live just as long. Something to contemplate!
And number three on the list—don’t fall over—is Loma Linda California. There some folks who live there are out living the rest of us—on average—by ten years. We’ll be talking about this a little later too.
Let’s look at some other statistic: These days in the United States 79 is becoming the average! Well Monaco is beating that number by ten full years—the CIA World Fact book tells us that in Monaco the average life span is 89.73 years.
Okay, with the above information tossing about in our heads—let’s speculate.
Why some People Live Longer
It is pretty well known that Americans in numbers are an obese people—we stuff ourselves, pamper our sweet tooth addictions, slug down our beer and…snack. We feed our kids microwaved diets, let them eat in front of the television set and grab some fast food for lunch. This would not do in Okinawa or for that matter anywhere in Japan. The Japanese first of all have a very healthy tradition. It’s called “Hara hachi bu” which means to eat only until one is 80% full.
There’s not a scientist on earth who would not agree with the projection that being a little hungry is far healthier than being a “little or lot” fat.
It is also said that the Okinawans eat diets that are rich in fruits, vegetables, grains and oily fish. (Fish oil increases good cholesterol).
The group who live longer in Loma Linda also eat lots of vegetables and stay one healthier diets than most of us do—and they neither smoke nor drink!
At this juncture I can hear see the health nuts already jumping up and down screaming out in pure delight: you see…you see…if you don’t smoke, don’t drink, eat only fish, fruit and vegetables, stay away from meat you’ll live a long and healthy time. Well, in any case, if this was how you lived, life would no doubt seem like a heck of a long time.
The Sardinians eat fish but not a whole lot of it, they drink lots of red wine, gobble down goat, lamb, beef and ham and yes, lots of vegetables too—most grow their own!
The truth is that in Sardinia vegetables are organically grown and all the livestock there—I am told—feed on healthy wild grasses growing on free range.
Could this make a difference in health?
First of all my answer is yes: I cannot answer for the rest of the world but I will give you some facts about the food we Americans consume. Our food market is absolutely not about health even though in many instances it pretends to be—What we buy to eat is all about money honey and nothing else. For example, today’s ranchers often have a market demand for having their beeves ready for market within 14 months. And this means taking a calf from say 75 to 85 pounds and getting him to weigh around 1200 pounds in that short time.
Presently, the last report I read said that our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves of 5 hormones used in food production. This is because of strong lobbying from the big boys in the meat industries. What of course concerns the rest of us—including many scientists—is what the hormones and chemicals do to our human health. For only one example, girls are already beginning to reach puberty before nature intended them to and many believe this is due to the steroids used in meat.
As far as our vegetables, commercial farmers now use over 1 billion pounds of chemicals on crops each year. The American people are fed at least 3,000 food additives with some thought to actually cause cancer—Think about that next time you open a can of something for your kids to eat or cook them a nice hotdog. And so, after thinking about all this, you ask when might the FDA charge in to protect us? And my answer is they don’t charge in…they simply maintain their blind-eye policies because…well, politics are politics!
And speaking of politics, the sad and often tortured chickens raised by commercial growers not only fatten up their chickens, living in terrible conditions. with hormones but have been feeding their chickens for years with feed that contains…arsenic.
You-whooo—FDA, where are youuuu?
Still, in spite of it all, we human beings are living longer—well medicine and science is certainly keeping a lot of people going for a lot longer. These days not even all cancer is a certain death warrant nor is AIDS…or is lots of health-challenges that would have killed a lot of people only a few decades ago.
Nevertheless, we ask—what’s the secret of longevity. I’ll attempt to answer this very question next.
How to Live to be a Real Old Foggie and…Love it!
I’ll start this section off by telling you who Loma Linda’s long-livers are: they are the Seven Day Adventists—that’s right those rather tunneled-vision people who knock on your door with a free publication that hopes to serve as a missionary tool.
While it is true that most them eat moderately, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t eat pork or anything else they consider unclean meat…like shell fish! They are fundamentalists, if you will. Incidentally, John Kellogg was a Seven Day Adventist and he gave us the Breakfast of Champions…hmmm?
Jesus, along with other spiritual teachers, told us that it isn’t what we put into our bodies that defile us. It is what comes out of us. It doesn’t matter what you or I think about the Seven Day Adventist they are a people of devoted faith and, in vast majority, refuse to be bitter against others and entrust their lives to God. I am convinced that healthy longevity begins with attitude. Indeed, ever as much as vitamins and minerals, peace of mind and knowing how to appreciate the simple joys in life not only keep us feeling good but strengthens our immune system as well.
What Loma Linda, Okinawa and Ovodda, Sardinia has in common is that for the majority of ordinary folks, life is pretty simple but also secure. I have known two centenarians in my life—one was a lady who lived in the high mountains in Baja. She had never had a hot bath in her life as where she lived there was no running water and the only heat was from a wood burning stove. She was a devout Catholic and slept with a rosary under her pillow. She told me that she handed “God” all her problems and I believed she did exactly that. She was just turning 110 when I saw her. The other centenarian that I knew was only 101. I met him in a small village of sawyers up near the Burma border. I ate and drank with the old boy but he did not speak a word of English and since I didn’t speak his language so we only chatted with our eyes, pats on the back and nods of our heads.—I was given his age by a person who did speak English. When I found out that he was over one hundred years old, I was, in a term, a bit flabbergasted. I was a mere 40 at the time and he was climbing about the jungle more agile than I was.
In any case, the old man was still working to some extent. He drove the elephants down to the river for their morning baths and collected firewood. I don’t know what else he did but I know he was wiry and frisky especially for a man as old as he was.
I would imagine that most people reading this article will remember a small magazine that made history in popularity called, The Reader’s Digest. Well, Reader’s Digest had a special section called, “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” And I am absolutely convinced that laughter not only relieves you of whatever pressure you might be enduring but absolutely strengthens your immune system.
Perhaps you recall Norman Cousins he is sometimes referred to as the man who laughed in the face of death. What happened was that he was diagnosed as having a serious heart and health problems and told he probably wouldn’t survive. With that grim news in his mind, he began, as he called it, training himself to laugh. He did this by watching funny movies, especially the Marx Brothers! How funny he thought those movies were, we cannot know but what we do know is that he learned how to have them give him belly laughs and those belly laughs had an anesthetic effect on his body; they took away the pain. Between laughter and lots of vitamin C, he survived 20 years longer than his doctors had predicted.
As a quick aside—A little more than five years ago I took seriously ill and the doctors told my wife I probably did not have a week to live so I know about hearing “grim news”…I am absolutely against doctors telling people that they are terminal because most people tend to believe authority and act upon what authority says.
Anyway, laughter is the best medicine and…now let this sink in…it is also the best preventative medicine.
Am I just blowing smoke?
Recent research indicates that being exposed to humor our immune systems increase with activity. Indeed, it seems to researchers that laughter tells the immune system to strengthen. And, as a result there is an increase in T cells (T lymphocytes) and antibody lgA (Immunoglobulin A) which fights upper respiratory problems. Laughter is also known to increase lgB and Complement 3, which helps antibodies to pierce dysfunctional or infected cells. I personally believe that one day it will be discovered that laughter does much more than this for our good health.
As another aside, some years ago when I was writing for a magazine I interviewed one of the world’s top authorities on cancer and he told me privately that we all get cancer all the time just as we get nose colds. Our immune system takes care of us, unless the cancer hit us when we are under a great deal of stress…are deeply angry or are filled with hate. Serious stress, serious anger, serious hatefulness weakens our immune systems. It’s as complex and simple as that.
Anyway,the point is that our emotions directly affect our immune bodies.
Do I think genetics have anything to do with our health or longevity?
Sure, it only makes common sense that our genes carry certain variables of good and bad health. And there are actually some diseases that are called hereditary. I don’t want to get into too much detail but there are around 4000 known genetic diseases known to afflict humans. Many are not serious but there are those that are. For example, Sickle-cell disease is caused by a mutation of the hemoglobin gene which makes it difficult for lungs to operate as they should. Tay-Sachs disease occurs when a defective gene gets inherited by the same parent which causes notable deterioration to the mental and physical abilities of the child. No one knows yet exactly how many genes our bodies have but the current guess is somewhere between 30 and 40,000 so lots can possibly go amuck.
When you stop and think about how many healthy people are born, life becomes more precious and more miraculous than generally acknowledged. How truly magical is it that I can not only sit here and put meaningful words on paper, but I can be aware that I am putting meaningful words on paper. Later I will go watch the boob tube and be fully aware that I am the observer observing…is that amazing or what?
So what I believe we can assume at this juncture is that belief and/or faith in the spiritual, a positive attitude and lots of laughter holds the formula for long life. What, have we skipped diet and exercise?
When it comes to food, drinks and deserts, I subscribe to the oldest wisdom around—nothing in access and everything in moderation. I drink red wine, I eat meat maybe once a week, I eat lots of vegetables not because I am on a health kick but because I favor them; as a poor kid I was raised on Colorado pinto beans three times a week, pasta three times a week and maybe a chicken from the coop on Sundays; always salads! That was my diet, along with pancakes and eggs for breakfast, until I was at least fourteen. We were not big meat eaters in our house but not because we were health conscious, because meat was too expensive. With this in mind, however, I will tell you that I’ve been face to face in serious ways to death five times in my life and I am still kicking; I am convinced my early diet build my immune system very strong. You might even say that I’m difficult to kill—not invulnerable mind you, but of a hardy breed in the least which makes me thankful for my childhood diet as that is what I credit most—beside a good attitude—to my survival record.
The point is not to boast but to say that yes, I think how and what we eat is very important I just do not think it is as important as our worldview. And what I mean by this is that if we have been fortunate enough to be born and grow up even in average good health, we need to make it our practice to love others, love ourselves and love our world; to live in at least a certain amount of thanksgiving for being alive. I think that this thanksgiving can do wonders for the immune system since somehow it seems that the happier and more at peace we are, the healthier we are?
It is safe to say that nearly everyone wants to live to a ripe old age—some people put a lot of effort into it while others don’t—if you will, some folks live on walnuts and beansprouts while others are meat and potato types, some people are diligent about exercising, others aren’t and, it seems that, all these groups have their count of the very old.
I believe that common sense is best—don’t overindulge in anything—if you’re like me and like those fast-food hamburgers every now and again, don’t deprive yourself but don’t belly up to the counter every day either. If you have it in your head that sardines and tomatoes are the ticket to good health and it makes you feel good to eat them—eat them, but don’t get crazy and overdose on them. Remember moderation seems to have the greatest payload when it comes to our good health.
I do believe that at least some exercise is good for us—walking, jogging, bicycling, swimming anything that gets the old circulation in greater motion and makes us breathe a little deeper. I’m really a failure at this one. I’ve been going to start an exercise program tomorrow for over fifty years. Well, you know what they say about tomorrow.
All my growing up years were extremely active, however, and I am convinced that a healthy, active childhood counts for the rest of our lives—watch and see, we’re going to start seeing a bunch of medical problems when the kids today reach their middle age. Walking from the television to the computer is not enough exercise for our little technicians who probably have never even climbed a tree.
In view of the above, too much inactivity can truly be a detriment to our good health. You know, the longer any of us lay around, the more difficult it really is to get up.
And speaking about all this, what about the folks who live in Stoccareddo Italy—a little village in the Italian Alps? They don’t worry about what they eat or even how much and their diets are primarily made up of what we would call artery-clogging foods—they eat fatty meats, cheeses even cream sauces—a lot—and guess what no heart disease or diabetes. Maybe it’s that good, red wine, or maybe it’s simply in their genes which many scientists believe but the phenomenon is true and has been for, well…centuries.
As you probably have guessed by now, I am a red wine enthusiast while there are some people who think of all alcoholic beverages as the “devil’s brew.” But there is a difference in enjoying a glass of wine and becoming a wino…there is a difference between having a McDonalds or Carl’s Jr. or Jack in the Box every now and again and becoming a fast food glutton. And if you like chocolate, some studies say that it actually helps reduce heart problems in women so it might even be good for you—too much of it, however, won’t be so…don’t stuff yourself on it, use your common sense discipline!
My final advise is, don’t eat a lot of meat—grow your own veggies if you can or buy organic if you can afford to. Remember, when it comes to human health and profit—profit wins so think of that next time you open a can or take a pound of hamburger out of the package. Eat fish sometimes instead of meat. As said, I eat a lot of fish and little meat but only because the older I get, the more I crave fish. I generally do what makes me happy.
And this is the real point—as far as I am concerned it doesn’t matter how hard you work at exercising your body or how conscientiously you eat, what will kill you off is living with hate, anger, high stress and/or high anxiety in your daily life. So what you truly need to practice is walking your path in forgiveness and love; of making laughter your goal, and the ability to laugh at yourself a little too. Feed the spirit, the body will follow!