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

Centennial and supercentennial studies have taught us more than we ever knew before about the aging process and what keeps us alive. Four Blue Zones, regions of 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 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

– They drink hard water with a 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., were recently featured on ESPN Zone in Chicago to a free lunch to share his enthusiasm for the Chicago Cubs, despite 100 years of team failure. These centenarians have a keen interest in sports, a passion that continues.

Aging in America

The good news is that Americans live longer, suffer fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke, and improve recovery from cancer and other diseases. The portion of the US 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 from 60 to 99 years

These are just a few of the many older adults who lead healthy, active lives from their 60s to their 90s and beyond.

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

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

o Harry Bernstein, at age 96, became the first published author of The Invisible Wall, memoirs of Jewish growth in the industrial city of Stockport, England, during the time of World War I.

or 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 12/5/08.

o Dorian Paster, MD, 86, happily married for 48 years and director of his surf 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 prays and talks with the deceased.

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

o Sheila Johnson, 60, a retired high school algebra teacher ranked third in the ranking of female players in the USTA 60s division, joined the Grand Canyon University undergraduate college tennis team .

The bad news is that the vast majority of older people have at least one chronic illness. [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 a chronic physical illness. Almost 90 percent of depressed older patients in primary care are either untreated or inadequately treated. 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 a diagnosed psychiatric disorder is greater than 50%. This study revealed that mental illness begins in the early 1920s, 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 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 it. The next step is to follow the recipes and advice given to 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 longevity of its inhabitants. At that time he had identified three of those areas, Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California. He recently 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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