Healthy Aging: Centenarians and seniors can live healthy, active and fulfilling lives, and so can you

Studies of centenarians and supercentenarians have taught us more about the aging process and what keeps us alive than we ever knew before. Four Blue Zones have been identified, regions of the world with the oldest inhabitants. These four areas are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, Calif., 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 the 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.
– Drink hard water with high calcium content
– They focus on their family.
– They eat a light dinner.
– They have social networks
– keep working hard
– have regular “smart” sun exposure
– They have strong spiritual connections that 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., recently received treatment at ESPN Zone in Chicago to a free lunch to share his enthusiasm for the Chicago Cubs, despite the team’s 100 years of failure. These centenarians have an avid interest in sports, a passion that continues.

Aging in America

The good news is that Americans are living longer, suffering fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke, and improving recovery from cancer and other illnesses. The portion of the US population over the age of 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 be 65 years old.

Active Seniors Ages 60 – 99

These are just a few of the many older adults who live active, healthy lives in their 60s through 90s and beyond.

o Nola Ochs, earned her bachelor’s degree, age 95, from Fort Hays Kansas State University

o Michael DeBakey, MD, 97, internationally recognized heart surgeon from Texas, and Denham Harman, MD, 89, father of the free radical theory of aging, are still at work and lecturing. Dr. Harman suggests taking vitamins and antioxidants to slow the production of free radicals, specifically vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q-10, and beta-carotene.

o Harry Bernstein, at 96, became the first published author of The Invisible Wall, memoirs of Jews growing up in the industrial town of Stockport, England, during the time of World War 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 05/12/08.

o Dorian Paster, MD, 86, has been happily married for 48 years and has been director of his surf camp for more than 35 years. “This doctor spends an hour and a quarter doing deep breathing squats, flexibility exercises, and some ten pound barbell work every morning and prays and converses with the deceased.
o Wifold Bialokur, at 71, runs 6.2 miles in less than 44 minutes, with smoothness and control.

o Sheila Johnson, 60, a retired high school algebra teacher and third-ranked player in the USTA’s 60 division, joined the varsity undergraduate tennis team at Grand Canyon University.

The bad news is that the vast majority of older people have at least one chronic disease. [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 simply “normal aging” or chronic physical illness. Nearly 90 percent of depressed older patients in primary care receive no or inadequate treatment. Only a very small percentage receive treatment for mental disorders from a mental health specialist as they age.

The National Comorbidity Study found that at 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 other 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 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 path to health. Information and help are available if we seek them. The next step is to follow the recipes and advice they give us 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 longest longevity of their inhabitants. At that time he had identified three such areas, Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, Calif. He recently added a fourth Blue Zone, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, where he met and interviewed Panchita Castillo and her 80-year-old son, Tommy.

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