The connection between longevity and both physical and mental well-being is indeed significant, and there's ample evidence suggesting the importance of a holistic approach to life in achieving both. In fact studies show the intersection of genetics, lifestyle, community, diet, and mental well-being is where the secret to long, fulfilling lives seems to lie.
Mindfulness and Mental Well-being: PTSD and other anxiety disorders certainly can hinder one's ability to live a peaceful life. Mindfulness practices, like meditation, have been shown to help quiet the "chattering mind," reduce symptoms of PTSD, and promote general mental well-being. Engaging in such practices can help achieve a sense of calm, which, in turn, is beneficial for longevity.
Inter-generational Bonding: The importance of inter-generational bonding cannot be overstated. In societies where the elderly live with or near their families and actively engage in daily activities, we often see reduced rates of cognitive decline and improved mental health. The feeling of being valued and useful in one's later years contributes to overall happiness and purpose.
Active Lifestyle: Maintaining an active lifestyle is essential for physical health, and it's closely linked to longevity. Activities that engage both the body and mind, like dancing, gardening, or even walking in nature, have a holistic effect, benefiting both mental and physical health. In certain nations, the very geography upon which communities are constructed, necessitates a life interwoven with natural physical activity. The homes and streets in these regions are characteristically dotted with stairwells and steep paths, compelling residents to routinely climb stairs and navigate inclined terrains. This inherent design of their environment ensures that inhabitants, including the elderly, engage in consistent aerobic exercise. Such frequent exertions activate and maintain crucial muscle groups, promoting physical well-being, and inadvertently supporting longer, healthier lives among the populace.
Diet: The emphasis on a plant-based diet rich in grains and legumes while limiting fruit intake due to the fructose. Fructose, when consumed in moderation from natural sources like fruits, is not harmful and provides beneficial nutrients and fiber. However, excessive intake, especially from processed foods and beverages containing high-fructose corn syrup, has been linked to various health issues, including obesity, liver disease, and insulin resistance.This aligns with findings from the "blue zones" where diets are predominantly plant-based, with limited processed foods and meat. The modern fast-food industry and many food retailers heavily promote and peddle products laden with excessive fats, salt, and sugar. Furthermore, a significant portion of these processed foods contains potentially harmful additives, further exacerbating health concerns for consumers.
Social Connections and Community: This seems to be one of the most prominent commonalities across various cultures with high numbers of centenarians. The human need for social interaction and the health benefits of strong social connections are well-documented. Without this, we become isolated, lonely and depressed - this depressed mood can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) with severe mental health implications, as one withdraws and becomes more isolated, more sad and more lonely. Hence community is vital for survival of the fittest.
Limitations of Modern Lifestyle: The modern lifestyle, with its fast-paced nature and emphasis on individual achievements, sometimes inadvertently promotes isolation and a lack of community. This could be one of the reasons why more developed countries, despite having advanced healthcare systems, don't always rank high in terms of average life expectancy. In some countries in fact that boasted a healthy Centaurean population,
Inclusion of Elderly: As societies grow and change, there's a pressing need to ensure the elderly aren't left behind. They should be included in societal changes, technological advancements, and community events. This inclusion promotes a sense of belonging and purpose.
The factors influencing the health of the elderly are multifaceted, with genetics playing only a partial role. A substantial portion of the variations in health outcomes among the aged can be attributed to their physical and social surroundings. Quality and equitable healthcare is also vital to ensure longevity. This encompasses not only their immediate homes but also the broader context of their neighborhoods and communities. Additionally, personal attributes, such as gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic standing, further shape their health trajectories. If one cannot afford good health care then this will also impact on the ageing outcomes i.e. physical and mental well being.
Trauma: Intriguingly, the environment one is exposed to during childhood, or even in utero, can cast a long shadow, setting the stage for how one ages in later years. Hence it is important that one overcomes the past and is able to live in the present, for good mental health is vital in achieving longevity. Longevity, where one is still able to walk unaided, can still participate and function well in life physically and mentally and someone who is free of other aged related diseases such as dementia.
Vounteering and Keeping Busy: In a particular nation renowned for its healthy Centaureans, an intriguing observation emerges: even those seniors who are no longer part of the formal workforce remain fervently active through volunteerism. Whether it's assisting in packing food for the needy, loading trucks with essential goods, or even working in bookstores, these elders are a testament to the age-old adage that a mind and body in motion stays healthy. This active engagement in their twilight years stands in stark contrast to the typical "retirement" paradigm in many places. It serves as a poignant reminder that sustained physical and mental activity is paramount in staving off age-related ailments such as dementia while also nurturing longevity.
In regions boasting a significant number of Centaureans, those remarkable individuals who live past the age of 100, there's a conspicuous absence of traditional aged care facilities. Instead, these communities prioritize intergenerational living, fostering a culture where the elderly reside with family or remain deeply integrated within communal settings. This organic, community-centric approach to aging underscores the vital role of social connectivity and familial bonds in promoting longevity, emphasizing the value of human relationships over institutional care.
I wish to emphasize the importance of community and finding one's "ikigai," and maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle. If you know yourself and have the wisdom of insight, then you can change your life and also perhaps have longevity, whereby you are healthy, strong and fit, even at 100! This mirrors the findings from various longevity hot spots around the world. As the global community becomes more aware of these factors, there's hope that such practices can be integrated into more cultures and societies, leading to a global increase in both lifespan and health span.
Jayne Green (B.Ed; M.Ed)