When I turned 60, I knew for sure I wanted to live to at least 100.
I’ve been so busy the past 40 years with day to day details – earning a living, having a fun life, caring for my family. I hadn’t planned much for my future. I did quit smoking 20 years ago and started walking to counteract the weight gain. But other than that, aging isn’t something I’d thought much about.
When I started researching longevity, I learned I should have started preparing years ago. The advice is resounding: to be a young 50-year-old, be a young 40-year-old; to be a young 60, be a young 50. Here I am at 60 looking at 70. It’s time to get this show on the road.
In her TED talk about her “third act” in life, Jane Fonda says, “There have been many revolutions over the last century, but perhaps none as significant as the longevity revolution.” She points out that we’re living about 34 years longer than our great-grandparents did.
While it’s not entirely up to us how successfully we’ll age, here’s my starting formula for hopping on the longevity bandwagon.
Live a Conscientious Life to Achieve Longevity
The Longevity Project by Howard S. Friedman, Ph.D. and Leslie R. Martin, Ph.D. documents the 8-decade study started by Dr. Lewis Terman in 1921, following subjects from childhood to death. The authors tell us it’s not a good marriage or economic status or ideal weight that matters most to living long. It’s conscientiousness.
The study found conscientious people are less likely to do unhealthy things: smoke, abuse drugs or not wear a seatbelt. Conscientious people are less impulsive and make better choices. They tend to do what is right: being kind to people, following doctor’s orders, flossing, exercising like we should and eating right.
Stay Strong and Stand Up Straight
Here’s where we need to step it up as we get older. Unless we work it, muscle strength starts to decline about five percent every decade after our 30s. Strength training can reverse post-menopausal bone loss. Twice a week, I follow a strength training routine for women over 50. I thought I was in better shape and am surprised how my muscles rebel. But I’m sticking to it so I’ll be strong at 70 and maybe even at 100.
Flexibility and balance are good old age repellent, too. Stretch every muscle in your body every day. It feels so good once it becomes habit. To improve balance, try what I do: stand on one foot while you brush your teeth and switch feet when your electric toothbrush gives you the 30 second timer.
Good posture makes a huge difference in how you look and feel as you age. Start noticing other people’s posture, and your own automatically improves.
In her book UP: How Positive Outlook Can Transform Our Health and Aging, Dr. Hilary Tindle writes that our outlook “has the potential to influence every facet of our health from how quickly we recover from an illness or surgery to whether we become depressed, develop cardiovascular risk factors or suffer a heart attack, stroke or cancer, and even how well we care for ourselves when our health begins to break down.”
The gist is that optimists live longer and live better than pessimists. It’s so easy to practice optimism. Look up at the stars or the clouds and appreciate the beauty. Pick up a shiny penny and put it in your pocket for good luck. Smile at your grandbaby and know the meaning of perfect. Find joy everywhere you go, and keep your outlook optimistic.
Manage your Rest and Relaxation
Sleep is so important, and it’s my own biggest struggle. Now that my Fitbit tells me how little I really do sleep, I don’t know if it’s making my nights worse or if it’s pushing me to find a solution. It helps to know I’m not alone. There’s good company right here at Sixty and Me, and I plan to integrate lots of good advice.
I do try not to stress about my lack of sleep. Since I’ve started meditating 10 minutes every morning, I feel more energized for the day. And on nights when I sleep only four or five hours, I schedule the luxury of an afternoon nap. I’m worth it.
Embrace Learning, Creativity and Change
It drives me crazy to hear people say, “I don’t do the computer” or “I just want a flip phone, not a complicated smart phone” or “I liked it better how it used to be.” It’s time to get with the program, people. We live in an age none of us imagined when we were kids, and embracing technology will keep us young. My 86-year-old mom is a whiz with her iPhone.
Make it a point to learn something new every day. Do something creative every day, even it if’s just throwing ingredients into the skillet with a different spice. If there’s something new, give it a go. It’s okay to let your grandkids show you how to program the DVR, but then do it yourself.
I’m absorbing everything I can about living a long and happy life. There’s a lot of science to it, and there’s a lot of common sense. I’m certain my formula for longevity will evolve over the coming decades. But I’m joining the “longevity revolution” now. I wish I’d jumped on years ago.