On June 2, Queen Elizabeth celebrated her much-anticipated Diamond Jubilee after 60 years of reign in Great Britain. Reports said she looked “glowing, healthy, and radiant” at 86 years of age.
There are a lot of folks trying to figure out the formula for living long and well, not the least of which are marketing companies with their ploys to get consumers to buy into Botox treatments and plastic surgery, anti-aging creams, and diet regimens.
Apparently centenarians are the fastest growing segment of the population with the largest number in the U.S. and the second largest living in Japan. (How Many People Live to 100 Across the Globe?)
So what’s the secret to living long?
In a TED talk on longevity, National Geographic writer and explorer Dan Buettner studied the world’s longest-lived peoples, looking for their secrets to derive a single plan for health and long life. He claims that 10% of one’s longevity is attributed to genes, the other 90% to lifestyle.
The common denominators among these groups? The first surprise is that none of them exercise. But their daily lives are centered around activity – whether gardening, walking, biking to the store, making something by hand, or climbing stairs. They all eat plant-based diets, enjoy social belonging, take care of elders and children, subscribe to a faith-based community (which is said to be worth between 4 and 14 extra years of life expectancy), and have a network of friends, who are a good influence on them.
“When it comes to longevity, there’s no short-term fix in a pill or anything else,” says Buettner.
I would agree with that premise. But research proves that how we think determines our quality of life and I think there’s more to that than meets the eye. According to a Relevant Health News article, a Positive Outlook May be Key to Longevity: “Personality traits, like being happy and forward-thinking, have been linked to living a long time.” And if our thoughts are directed by deep spiritual principles and an understanding of God, that too has a direct effect on our health and length of life. A recently published scientific study “determined that high levels of religiosity among centenarians helped in their overall coping abilities and positive outlook on life” (Religion and Spirituality Among Centenarians).
That reminds me of my friend Phyllis, who at the age of 78 was laid off from her job as an editor for a successful travel magazine she’d founded 20 years earlier. But she wasn’t ready to stop working – she loved what she did! So she refused to let her age get in the way. She was linked in to meaningful concepts she’d learned from her spiritual practice of Christian Science. She felt connected to the divine source of her activities--and as such she didn't feel limited by her age. Instead, she looked at her life through the lens of infinite capabilities, limitless opportunities, and ceaseless occupation.
Phyllis soon landed a job as the editor of Marco Polo and went on to start her own successful magazine, Beach Talk. Today, at the same age as the Queen, she travels the world with her husband, whom she met four years ago on Match.com-- a widower and former CBS executive who is also her age ... but that's another story!
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Phyllis' religion and was a pioneer in the field of spirituality and health, enjoyed her most productive years when most women today, let alone in the 19th century, would be in retirement. In fact, she started the international newspaper, The Christian Science Monitor, at the age of 87.
Eddy had this to say about age: “Men and women of riper years and larger lessons ought to ripen into health and immortality, instead of lapsing into darkness or gloom,” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures).
These ideas–and people like my friend Phyllis, who live them – continue to surprise and inspire me on the subject of longevity.
Ingrid lives in Framingham where she and her husband manage three busy kids, a Lab who's sniffed every trail at Callahan and a ragdoll cat. She blogs on spirituality and health and is also a Christian Science practitioner. You can see more on her website "Breaking Bread" at masshealthblog.com.