"Live Long, Die Short"

by Robin McMilin, LCSW

 Who hasn’t had this thought: “I want the healthy part of my life to be long. I want the frail ’dying part’ of my life to be brief.”

But can we control the way our “older years” unfold? Dr. Roger Landry, a preventative medicine physician who spoke in Birmingham at last summer’s Canterbury Beeson Forum on Aging, would argue that we can. In his book, “Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging,” he argues that Lifestyle plays a major role in how we age.  Over a decade ago, a landmark ten-year study by the MacArthur Foundation shattered myth of aging as a process of slow, genetically determined decline. Researchers found that 70 percent of physical aging, and about 50 percent of mental aging, is determined by lifestyle, the choices we make every day. That means that if we improve our lifestyles, we can live longer and “die shorter.” We can compress the decline period into the very end of a fulfilling, active old age. Landry used the findings of the MacArthur study to provide 10 simple strategies to help us age in a better way:

  1. Use it or lose it. Whether you want to stay mentally sharp, physically strong or socially savvy, you need to continue to flex your real or metaphorical muscles. If you don’t, your physical, mental or social skills will quickly get rusty.
  2. Keep moving. Staying physically active is one of the best ways to feel young and stay healthy. It reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, dementia and other condition. It can also improve mood and ease anxiety and depression. Even if you exercise for just 30 minutes a day, you’ll be setting yourself up for a much healthier and happier future.
  3. Challenge your mind. When you perform activities that put your mind to work, you create new neural connections in your brain. These connections help keep your memory sharp and critical thinking skills intact. Choose a fun and creative way to challenge your brain: writing a book, learning a new language, playing mentally-stimulating board or computer games, taking up a new hobby—anything that gets your brain working.
  4. Stay connected. Maintaining an active social life has a surprisingly strong impact on your health and longevity. In fact, scientific studies have shown that socializing can improve cognitive abilities, reduce heart disease risk and increase lifespan in older adults. If you don’t have friends and family nearby, join a new club, take a class or strike up a conversation with more of the people you see on a day-to-day basis.
  5. Lower your risks. If you want to stay healthy, you need to be proactive about lowering your risk for disease. If you have a family history of heart disease, dementia or any other chronic health conditions, for example, you’ll want to do everything you can to lower your risk. That includes visiting your doctor for regular check-ups, eating well and exercising.
  6. Never act your age. Staying young at heart will help you lead a longer and more joyful life. A 2015 study found that people who felt younger than their real age tended to live longer than those who felt older than they really were. So embrace your silly side and try to recapture your child-like sense of wonder about the world.
  7. Wherever you are…be there. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts and to completely miss what’s happening in the moment. But being present in each moment can make your life more rewarding. It can help you develop more meaningful relationships, enjoy your hobbies more, avoid overeating and reduce feelings of stress, among other things.
  8. Find your purpose. Having a sense of purpose can help you feel happier and more fulfilled in your life. It inspires passion and gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Having a sense of purpose in life has even been shown to reduce your risk of heart attack, stroke and dementia. It can also help you live longer.
  9. Have children in your life. Whether they’re your children or grandchildren or whether you volunteer with a local school or scout troop, being around children is good for your well-being. That’s because children bring out your playful side and encourage you not to take life so seriously.
  10. Laugh. Countless studies have shown that laughter has a positive effect on your mental and physical health. In fact, studies on centenarians show that people who live to 100 have two important things in common—a healthy sense of humor and an optimistic outlook.

In my work with older adults at CJFS, I have found that these lifestyle changes can make a real difference.  While there are many factors of life that we are unable to control, it is encouraging to learn what areas we can control.  It is NEVER too late to turn the path of your life toward what Dr. Landry calls “successful aging.”

 If you would like help incorporating these tips into your life, contact CJFS, 205-879-3438 or robin@cjfsbham.org to make an appointment with one of our experienced professional counselors.

 


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