Tuesday, February 24, 2009

10 Healthy Habits That May Help You Live to 100

You don't need to eat yogurt and live on a mountaintop, but you do need to floss.

By Deborah Kotz, U.S. News & World Report

The biggest factor that determines how well you age is not your genes but how well you live. Not convinced? A new study of 20,000 British citizens published in the British Medical Journal shows that you can cut your risk of having a stroke in half by doing the following four things: being active for 30 minutes a day, eating five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding cigarettes and excess alcohol.
While those are some of the obvious steps you can take to age well, researchers have discovered that centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they eat, move about, and deal with stress—the sorts of things we can emulate to improve our own aging process. Of course, getting to age 100 is enormously more likely if your parents did.

Still, Thomas Perls, M.D., M.P.H., who studies the century-plus set at Boston University School of Medicine, believes that assuming you've side-stepped genes for truly fatal diseases like Huntington's, "there's nothing stopping you from living independently well into your 90s." Heck, if your parents and grandparents were heavy smokers, they might have died prematurely without ever reaching their true potential lifespan, so go ahead and shoot for those triple digits. Follow these 10 habits, and check out Perls' lifetime risk calculator to see how long you can expect to live.

Don't retire

"Evidence shows that in societies where people stop working abruptly, the incidence of obesity and chronic disease skyrockets after retirement," says Luigi Ferrucci, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The Chianti region of Italy, which has a high percentage of centenarians, has a different take on leisure time. "After people retire from their jobs, they spend most of the day working on their little farm, cultivating grapes or vegetables," he says. "They're never really inactive." Farming isn't for you? Volunteer as a docent at your local art museum or join the Experience Corps, a program offered in 19 cities that places senior volunteers in urban public elementary schools for about 15 hours a week.

Floss every day

That may help keep your arteries healthy. A 2008 New York University study showed that daily flossing reduced the amount of gum-disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. This bacteria is thought to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in the arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease. Other research has shown that those who have high amounts of bacteria in their mouth are more likely to have thickening in their arteries, another sign of heart disease. "I really do think people should floss twice a day to get the biggest life expectancy benefits," stresses Perls.

Move around
"Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists," says S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., a professor of medicine and aging researcher at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "It's like the oil-and-lube job for your car. You don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run better." Study after study has documented the benefits of exercise to improve mood, mental acuity, balance, muscle mass, and bone health. "And the benefits kick in immediately after your first workout," Olshansky adds. Don't worry if you're not a gym rat. Those who see the biggest payoffs are the ones who go from doing nothing to simply walking around the neighborhood or local mall for about 30 minutes a day. Building muscle with resistance training is also ideal, but yoga classes can give you similar strength-training effects if you're not into weight lifting.

Eat a fiber-rich cereal for breakfast

Getting a serving of whole grains, especially in the morning, appears to help older folks maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, according to a recent study conducted by Ferrucci and his colleagues. "Those who do this have a lower incidence of diabetes, a known accelerator of aging," he says.

Get at least six hours of shut-eye
Instead of skimping on sleep to add more hours to your day, get more to add years to your life. "Sleep is one of the most important functions that our body uses to regulate and heal cells," says Ferrucci. "We've calculated that the minimum amount of sleep that older people need to get those healing REM phases is about six hours." Those who reach the century mark make sleep a top priority.

Consume whole foods, not supplements

Strong evidence suggests that people who have high blood levels of certain nutrients—selenium, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E—age much better and have a slower rate of cognitive decline. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that taking pills with these nutrients provides those anti-aging benefits. "There are more than 200 different carotenoids and 200 different flavonoids in a single tomato," points out Ferrucci, "and these chemicals can all have complex interactions that foster health beyond the single nutrients we know about, like lycopene or vitamin C." Avoid nutrient-lacking white foods (breads, flour, sugar) and go for all those colorful fruits and vegetables and dark whole-grain breads and cereals with their host of hidden nutrients.

Be less neurotic

It may work for Woody Allen, who infuses his worries with a healthy dose of humor, but the rest of us neurotics may want to find a new way to deal with stress. "We have a new study coming out that shows that centenarians tend not to internalize things or dwell on their troubles," says Perls. "They are great at rolling with the punches." If this inborn trait is hard to overcome, find better ways to manage when you're stressed. These are all good: yoga, exercise, meditation, tai chi, or just deep breathing for a few moments. Ruminating, eating chips in front of the TV, binge drinking? Bad, very bad.

Live like a Seventh Day Adventist
Americans who define themselves as Seventh Day Adventists have an average life expectancy of 89, about a decade longer than the average American. One of the basic tenets of the religion is that it's important to cherish the body that's on loan from God, which means no smoking, alcohol abuse, or overindulging in sweets. Followers typically stick to a vegetarian diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, and also get plenty of exercise. They're also very focused on family and community.

Be a creature of habit
Centenarians tend to live by strict routines, says Olshansky, eating the same kind of diet and doing the same kinds of activities their whole lives. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is another good habit to keep your body in the steady equilibrium that can be easily disrupted as you get on in years. "Your physiology becomes frailer when you get older," explains Ferrucci, "and it's harder for your body to bounce back if you, say, miss a few hours of sleep one night or drink too much alcohol." This can weaken immune defenses, leaving you more susceptible to circulating flu viruses or bacterial infections.

Stay connected

Having regular social contacts with friends and loved ones is key to avoiding depression, which can lead to premature death, something that's particularly prevalent in elderly widows and widowers. Some psychologists even think that one of the biggest benefits elderly folks get from exercise is due to strong social interactions that come from walking with a buddy or taking a group exercise class. Having a daily connection with a close friend or family member gives older folks the added benefit of having someone watch their back. "They'll tell you if they think your memory is going or if you seem more withdrawn," says Perls, "and they might push you to see a doctor before you recognize that you need to see one yourself."

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

'The potholed road ahead'

Dr Herbert Gayle as he delivered this year's lecture in the Cobb Lecture Series sponsored by Ambassadors Charles and Sue Cobb, at UWI, Mona on Thursday, 29 January.

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer column

Monday, February 02, 2009

Will we listen to the heartbeat of a country that so dearly wants back its self-respect? We heard it in the call of Professor Errol Miller for our system to place more focus on values so we do not produce "educated ginnals". We heard it in Dr Herbert Gayle's plea as he pondered, "The Potholed Road Ahead" in this year's Cobb Lecture Series at UWI, Mona.

Prof Miller was guest speaker at the annual Teacher and Principal of the Year Awards where last year's winners, Joan Willams-Davis of Ardenne High and O'Neil Ankle of the Green Park Primary and Junior High School, showed us the mettle of true patriots. Williams-Davis presented a free manual with cutting-edge teaching tips, painstakingly prepared for her colleagues in the profession.

Ankle spearheaded a behaviour-change camp for the boys in his school, in collaboration with that star of community policing Corporal Marvin Franklin. He showed a video in which campers were counselled and embraced; one spoke of his new closeness to his God. RJR reporter Kersha Reid was moved to tears, apologising that she did not want to seem unprofessional. I think Prof Miller would have applauded her sensitivity.

The trailblazing educator and ECJ chairman reminded us that his concern was not just about literacy, but about the values we were inculcating in our children. He pointed out that while it was important, literacy alone cannot build a nation. "It was not illiterates that flew those planes that brought down the twin towers," he said. "It was not illiterate people who concocted Ponzi schemes, and scams and lotteries on the Internet."

"Intellect is being exercised without humility," said Prof Miller. He lauded the emergence of Barack Obama who "is himself the change, returning to the verity of content of character." He defined character as "what an individual is, in the dark when no one is looking".

Brilliant Jamaican anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle took the discussion further last Thursday as he examined solutions to reduce Jamaica's murder rate. He called for "a welfare system to cover the bottom quintile of our population". Dr Gayle said we were labouring under misconceptions about the drug trade: we should know that it is conducted on the same scale as the global oil trade. There are people in high places who make millions in drug trafficking without ever seeing a dead body: "Seventy-five per cent of all £5 notes in England have cocaine residue on them."

He said poor people were their pawns, and that the money made by the poor is used to buy guns. Why guns? Dr Gayle's study has shown sadly neglected inner-city youth lining up against our police and seeing bigger guns as their only defence against what he describes as the paramilitary dispensation of the JCF. He contrasted our force to England's Metropolitan Police, theirs built on the community policing model and ours on the Ulster paramilitary model.

Echoing Prof Miller's book Men at Risk, he raised an alarm about the dire state into which our boys had descended. He said that gangs now existed in every parish of Jamaica. He was incredulous at data that told him that there were boys as young as six years old, who were "already firing guns".

Dr Gayle's studies, in relation to the importance of the mother, mirror those of Dr Claudette Crawford-Brown. In Who Will Save Our Children? Crawford-Brown identifies the common factor of the absent mother in juvenile delinquents. Dr Gayle explains the particular devastation of what psychologists describe as "monotrophic disasters", wherein boys from zero to six years are separated in one way or another from their mothers. Of the 25 multiple murderers interviewed by Dr Gayle, 23 suffered from this broken relationship.

"The core responsibility of the mother is the emotional stability of the child," said Dr Gayle. He has heard a boy say of a mother gone into prostitution that "she dish out the love". Mothers in poor communities are in urgent need of government assistance, he believes, so they can be more fully supportive of their children.

By fomenting tribal behaviour, our politicians have contributed to the damage of our young boys. "At age six," said Dr Gayle, "they have worked out that 'if my government don't win, I won't get bag juice to drink'." For these tiny little bodies, "bag juice" is sometimes the only food they receive. Criminals breed in communities where there are "poor housing, poor sanitation, inferior physical infrastructure and few active social institutions," offered Dr Gayle.

Herbert Gayle was heartily applauded when he called for an end to giving community funds to MPs for distribution. "Establish an independent welfare office run by social workers," he urged. "MPs must recommend, not be 'father'." Then he turned the focus on us ordinary citizens, challenging us to show leadership by demanding accountability. "No police force can save us if the social model is bad," he warned.

During Dr Gayle's lecture, my phone kept vibrating relentlessly until I had to slip out to take the call. It was an irate friend who was watching the news coverage of the arrival of a notorious (and literate) "don". He could not believe the media hype around this individual who had been convicted on several counts of murder and drug-related charges, served only a part of his sentence and was now being deported to Jamaica.

Under a system of good governance, could such "dons" have emerged and flourished? Dr Gayle observed that during political campaigning, police vehicles are regularly seen escorting shrill and lawless motorcades.

Commissioner of Police Hardley Lewin assured the audience that the JCF's operational plan is addressing many of the areas explored by Dr Gayle. We should know, however, that the good efforts of Mr Lewin's High Command are constantly being challenged by the monsters of greed and tribalism that lurk in the shadows. Who is nurturing these squatter communities which the commissioner warns are fast turning into new garrisons?

At the start of his lecture, Gayle displayed the triangle of crime: performer, victim and witness. The longer we witness silently our country being overtaken by crime, the more we become accomplices of the performer. And the closer we move ourselves to becoming the next victim.