Healthy Aging – Centenarians and Seniors Can Live Healthy, Active, Fulfilling Lives – And So Can You

Studies of centenarians and super centenarians have taught us more than we had known before about the process of aging and what keeps us alive. Four Blue Zones, regions in the world with the oldest inhabitants, have been identified. These four areas are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California., and The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica.

o Panchita Castillo, who recently turned 100, lives in Hojancha, Costa Rica, a place with one of the healthiest, and oldest populations on the planet. Researchers attribute this longevity to qualities of life in the village. The following are some of the factors that seem to keep these villagers alive.

– They have a strong sense of purpose

– They drink hard water with high calcium content

– They focus on their family

– They eat a light dinner

– They have social networks

– they keep working hard

– they have regular “smart” sun exposure

– They have strong spiritual connections keep them stress-free

o Richard Savage, 100, of Chicago, Speedy Iavarone, 100, of Wood Dale, Ill., Marcia Hawkins, 100, of Chicago, and Lucia Klas, 102, of Morton Grove, Ill., were recently treated at the ESPN Zone in Chicago to a free lunch to share their enthusiasm for the Chicago Cubs, despite 100 years of the team’s failure. These centenarians have an avid interest in sports, a passion that continues on.

Aging in America

The good news is that Americans are living longer, experiencing fewer fatalities from heart disease and stroke and improved recovery from cancer and other illnesses. The portion of the U.S. population over 65 has increased from 9.5% in 1967, to 12.4 % in 2005, to an estimated 20 % by 2030, approximately 70 million. In 2011, 76 million American baby boomers will turn 65.

Active Seniors Ages 60 – 99

Here are only a few of the many seniors who are living active, healthy lives from their 60’s to their 90’s and beyond.

o Nola Ochs, earned her Bachelor’s Degree, at age 95, from Kansas’ Fort Hays State University

o Michael DeBakey, M.D., 97, internationally recognized heart surgeon from Texas and Denham Harman, M.D., 89, father of the free radical theory of aging, are still working and lecturing. Dr. Harman suggests taking vitamins and anti-oxidants to slow free-radical production, specifically vitamins C and E and coenzyme Q-10 and betacarotene.

o Harry Bernstein, at age 96, became a first time published author of The Invisible Wall, memoirs of growing up Jewish in the mill town of Stockport, England, during the time of WW I.

o Irena Sendler, “a Polish social worker who helped save some 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto and giving them false identities…” died at the age of 98 on 5/12/08.

o Dorian Paster, M.D., age 86, is happily married for 48 years and director of his surfing camp for over 35 years. “This doctor spends an hour and a quarter doing deep breathing squats, flexibility exercises, and some work with a ten-pound barbell, every morning and he prays and converses with the deceased.

o Wifold Bialokur, at age 71, runs 6.2 miles in less than 44 minutes, smoothly and with control.

o Sheila Johnson, age 60, a retired high school algebra teacher who is third ranked women’s player in the USTA 60’s division, joined the undergraduate college tennis team at Grand Canyon University.

The bad news is that the vast majority of seniors have at least one chronic [physical] condition, and 50% have at least two chronic conditions that limit their basic activities.

Almost 20% of older Americans also have mental disorders. Many primary care physicians think that psychiatric symptoms are just ‘normal aging’ or chronic physical illness. Almost 90 percent of depressed older patients in primary care get no treatment or inadequate treatment. Only a very small percent receive treatment for mental disorders from a mental health specialist as they age.

The National Comorbidity Study found that by age 75, the lifetime risk of having any diagnosed psychiatric disorder is greater than 50%. This study revealed that mental illness begins in the early twenties followed by a gradual increase in additional conditions, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, impulse-control disorders, and substance abuse. Psychology Today reported similar findings in its own study, Therapy in America.

The answer to these health problems is being presented to us every day by authorities and experts in wellness, nutrition, diet and exercise, counseling, therapy, spirituality. It is up to each and every one of us to find our own way to health. Information and help is available if we seek it out. The next step is to follow the prescriptions and advice that we are given to improve and maintain our own health and emotional well being.

In a 2005 National Geographic article, “The Secrets of Long Life,” author Dan Buettner identified three “Blue Zones,” regions of the world with the greatest longevity of its inhabitants. At that time he had identified three such areas, Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California. Recently he added a fourth Blue Zone, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, where he met and interviewed Panchita Castillo and her 80 year old son, Tommy.

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