In 1900, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years old. The U.S. Census Bureau now predicts that by 2020 the average life expectancy will be close to 80 years old, and many people will live beyond that.
While life spans are increasing, there is an ever-growing media culture that seems obsessed with anti-aging, as evidenced by the growing promotion of anti-aging creams and diets, and attention to celebrities who “defy” their age.
Is there possibly a happy medium where we can celebrate our age and maintain our health?
Oprah Winfrey has said that aging is a blessing. Many people share her sentiment and feel that growing older is a privilege and presents an opportunity to pass on wisdom while also continuing to have a “beginner's mind.” As Pablo Picasso said, “It takes a long time to become young.”
The National Institute on Aging, which investigates ways to support healthy aging, uses the phrase “active life expectancy” to describe living a life free of age-related illness and decline for as long as possible.
Here are some ways to grow older with grace and wisdom and increase your own "active life expectancy."
Wisdom From Other Cultures
Every culture offers clues for aging with grace and health, particularly when it comes to food.
Native Intuits in Alaska live longer thanks to all the healthy fats in the fish they eat, even without eating many vegetables.
Off the coast of Panama, a small tribe of Kuna Indians were found to have low blood pressure and less incidence of stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Their healthy aging secret? Dark chocolate.
In India, many women begin their day with a cup of hot ginger tea with honey. Both of these foods contain rich antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body and enrich the skin.
In both China and India people have cultivated and drank green tea for centuries to help increase health and ward off many ailments. Green tea that has EGCG, a compound known to help increase cell turnover.
Cutting Back on Calories
How much and how frequently you eat might impact how you age.
While studies are ongoing, they indicate that cutting back on the number of calories you consume while still getting all the nutrients you need may have a positive effect on disease, markers of aging, and even life span.
Findings from the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) pilot study found that overweight adults who cut their calorie consumption by 20 to 30 percent lowered both their fasting insulin levels and core body temperature. Scientists say these changes correlate with increased longevity in animal models. Eating less calories also reduced their risk for developing heart disease and diabetes.
Research from the New England Centenarian Study confirms that few centenarians are obese. In addition to lifestyle and dietary health, genes also play a role in living longer. About 50 percent of centenarians have first-degree relatives or grandparents who also achieve very old age. Other preliminary research from the study indicates that centenarians handle stress better than the majority of people.
One UCLA study discovered that meditation can help preserve the brain as we age. In most people, the brain begins to lose both volume and weight, along with functional abilities, as we get older.
In this study, scientists compared people who had meditated for 50 years and a group who did not. They found that while both groups showed a decreased volume of gray brain matter, the meditators didn’t lose as much.
“While much research has focused on identifying factors that increase the risk of mental illness and neurodegenerative decline, relatively less attention has been turned to approaches aimed at enhancing cerebral health,” said Dr. Eileen Luders, first author of the study and assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
As you move through each stage of life, it may be helpful to ask how you can enhance your health, wisdom, and joy at any age.
© 2015 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies