Meet Charles. He’s 97-years old. Charles Eugster (rhymes with youngster, oh so ironic, no?) looks in great shape for someone approaching 100, or for that matter their 80s or 70s or even 60s.
His physique is thanks to taking up bodybuilding in his 80s to get into better physical shape. Yeah, you heard right; living proof that you’re never too old to transform your body. He took up sprinting in his 90s and at 96 he set a world record for the 200m in his age group.
Maybe it was all that sprinting that killed Charles. But then again, what about Hidekichi Miyazaki shown here mimicking the pose Usain Bolt famously struck at the Olympics after winning gold. Hide has just set a new world record for the 100 m sprint for his age group.
Yeah, 42 seconds, I’m not impressed, you say. But wait … this was a world record for the over-105 age group. Can you hear the crowd cheering; “Go, Hide Go!”? Alas, Hide passed before his 110th birthday or he might have gone for that record too.
I offer Charles and Hide as examples of how to live. They demonstrate that it’s possible to remain healthy and vigorous even as you age and to do so almost to your dying day. And it’s not about running. In fact, I wouldn’t rule out that it was the running that killed them. After all, they were both in their 90s when they took up running. What on earth were they thinking? I can’t help wondering whether their doctors – risk-averse as doctors tend to be – would have given them the green light at their age. But then, I suspect that Charles and Hide are the types that don’t wait for their doctor’s approval.
Your Doctor is Not in Charge of Your Health. You Are!
Being risk-averse is not always the best approach. But that’s what your doctor is paid to do. Their primary concern is to monitor your health and to diagnose and treat your ailments and maladies. Your doctor is only passively interested in you while you remain healthy and hale. They are busy treating those that need it. Ultimately, only you are in charge of your own health and longevity. Having an interest in a robust healthcare system means being willing to help pay into it even as you plan to make very little use of it. My own personal plan is to require very little active healthcare services but to welcome it if needed.
The good news is that you have much more control over your quality of life and longevity than you might realize. And the earlier in life you consider your mortality and your future, the better because the impact of poor life choices can take decades to be manifest and happen so gradually that they are hardly noticed but can be hard to reverse later in life.
Attitude – The Key to Long Life
What’s the key to long life? We’ll get to some specifics shortly, but a significant factor is your attitude. Many people grow old mentally before they even age. Maintaining a child-like curiosity is what might impel you to take up running in your 90s. Remaining creative and being willing to continue to challenge yourself your whole life. Rather than sitting and calcifying, Charles and Hiei were up and doing stuff. Charles wrote and published a book – “Age is Just a Number” in his 90s. He also presented at a Ted Talk – “Why bodybuilding at age 93 is a great idea” and he continued competing in various athletic competitions; all while in his 90s. Here’s the thing; Charles was a self-confessed couch potato up to his 50’s. Astonishingly, he was 87 when he decided to start lifting weights to get his body in shape. Hide too started his running career later in life. Age is just a number.
Your Chances of Living to 100 Have Never Been Better
Consider this; The global population of centenarians – those who reach 100 years of age – is literally exploding. Thirty years ago there were less than 100,000 centenarians in the world and today the number is approaching 600,000. That’s a whopping 520% increase at a time when the world population grew by 30%. Current estimates are that we’ll see an additional 3 million centenarians in the world over the next 30 years. [ref; “Pew Research Center” and “World Population Review”.]
Never have your chances of living to 100 been better. And it shows no signs of slowing down; at least for the next few decades. With the advances in science and medicine, we are truly in a golden age of longevity.
Historic vs Modern Pattern of Ageing
Historically, humans just like other animals died unexpectedly and usually suddenly. Predators and accidents were common ways to die. The demands of the natural unpredictable world meant that as long as you were healthy and strong you could expect to continue to live, but as soon as you were compromised in any way, you were probably under the shadow of the grim reaper.
This is in stark contrast to the modern pattern of ageing which is; “live long and expect a steady decline in physical and cognitive health and increasing frailty but with the support of a cocktail of pharmaceuticals along with a reliance on long term care providers that keep you alive”. Yes, our modern technology and medicine have become a two-edged sword. An amazing ability to keep the body and mind alive longer and longer but with a diminished quality of life.
Our ancestors had notoriously short lives. A simple infection or a broken bone could mean a sudden death sentence. Today, a shot of penicillin or resetting a broken bone in a cast for 6-weeks is a minor inconvenience. The natural world has always been a dangerous place. When we examine the bones of our ancient ancestors, the few lucky ones that made it to old age displayed surprisingly robust bodies and few of the signs of modern ageing. What else should we expect? Evolution has ensured that our natural biology is geared to survival. The chronic conditions that afflict so many moderns as they grow old are not an accurate reflection of how our biology is primed to operate. We all die at some point; that’s a given. Our ancestors suffered short lifespans mainly due to accidents, violence and food scarcity. Anyone who made it past the precariousness of childhood and avoided the dangers of adulthood could expect to maintain vigour more or less to the end. Indeed, they had to maintain vigour to survive or die.
Longevity vs Quality of Life
The Modern Pattern of Growing Old is Not Normal. We have come to assume it is because it is what we experience all around us, but it isn’t.
The illustration above contrasts our modern longevity with the shorter but more vigorous lives of our ancestors. The ideal state is one where we have the best of both worlds. We have our modern science and medicine to treat our maladies and keep death at bay for years plus we have vigorous health with a high quality of life to the end.
Both Charles and Hide above died shortly after having accomplished some amazing feats of athleticism. Perhaps it was engaging in those feats that killed them. Perhaps engaging in those athletics later in life actually extended their lives. Perhaps both, but who cares? This article is about living vigorously then dying quickly without the extended period of slowly declining mental and physical functionality, and it applies whether you’re 49 or 99. In a nutshell;
Longevity With Quality of Life
“Healthspan” is a term coined recently to refer to that part of your lifespan in which you have a high quality of life – good physical and mental health and functional fitness. This article is not so much about longevity as it is about having a healthspan that is as close as possible to your lifespan. Or put another way, minimizing the gap between your lifespan and your healthspan.
That ideal state is what our ancestors experienced before the modern world and indeed what the rest of the animal kingdom has always experienced. Except that as humans in the modern world, we have something new and exciting to add to the equation. We have found ways to forestall death and extend life. Magic!
We have it within our grasp to experience the “ideal” state with the help of modern medicine.
David Sinclair (named in Time’s World’s 50 Most Influential People in Health Care) is at the forefront of research in ageing and epigenetics. In his recent book; “Lifespan – Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To”, he makes a point of distinguishing between extending your life and prolonging your vitality.
I’m a certified Primal Health Coach and my key interest area is helping others to maintain a lifelong state of health and functional physical fitness to help ensure continuing high quality of life. My approach is to focus on ancestral health in line with the latest understanding of our evolutionary biology combined with the current state of longevity research. I don’t care who you are, you have way more control over your health and longevity than you might realize. Research in the field of epigenetics has confirmed that we can turn genes on and off based on our lifestyle choices. Our genes are not all fixed and we are not at the total mercy of the genes we inherited. If your parents are obese and you received genes that predispose you to obesity, there are things you can do to modify those genes. Furthermore, if you modify those genes, you will pass the modifications on to your children (ref; “Deep Nutrition”, Catharine Shanahan, M.D.).
Seven Things To Stop Doing Right Now
Too many of us are killing ourselves slowly by engaging in anti-health behaviours. While losing one night of good sleep won’t kill you, a chronic pattern of too little sleep deprives your body and brain of essential repair and recovery work. Sleeping, eating, exercise, these are things that can either enhance your longevity or snip an hour off the end of your life. Death my a thousand hours, so to speak.
How then should we live? I’ll end with my list of the seven essentials for health and longevity. The first two are areas of specialization for me as a Primal Health Coach and I will elaborate in future articles. The remaining items round out the list. So here goes … the seven things you need to stop doing today if you want to join the millions who will reach 100 over the next few decades.
- Stop Poisoning Yourself … This Life Gives You Only One Body
Eat for the joy of eating, absolutely. But also eat for the joy of living. Some common foods are no better than poison to your system and are not worth trading short-term joy for long-term maladies. Get educated because food is life. The topic of eating and diet is by far the most important topic on this list and really, this one and the next one link to the other five on the list.
- Get Off Your Butt And Move! … But Not Too Much
Move regularly. Move a lot. Move as if your life depends on it – because it does. Keep your body functional and fit for life so that it may serve you well. But there is a sweet spot between too little and too much in which you must live.
- Don’t Let Your Brain Get Soggy … Because If You Lose It, You Won’t Even Care
Exercise your brain. A vigorous body is no consolation if you haven’t got a brain. And lo and behold, the two biggest factors in a healthy brain are the first two items on the list, and the remaining items on the list are all contributing factors.
- Stop Compromizing On Sleep … Less Sleep = Fewer Days of Living
It’s Ironic that chronic sleep shortage can lead to an early grave. In other words, if you are so busy that you need to find more hours in your day by cutting hours of sleep, you may just end up cutting the number of days you have in your life leaving you no further ahead and with the inefficiency of sleep-deprived work, your less productive to boot.
With all that we have learned about sleep over the last decade the health benefits of good sleep are without dispute. In fact, some fitness advisors have now prioritized sleep over exercise and diet as the starting point for optimal health and fitness. Furthermore, it should come as no surprise that sleep links to the first three items above.
- Manage Your (Chronic) Stress … And Chill
Cortisol is the primary stress hormone. It is necessary for health and longevity. But it usually comes in bursts from a sudden unexpected event. Our modern world has left too many of us in a state of chronic stress with the result of chronic cortisol that is killing us.
- Don’t Be Too Busy To Socialize … Relationships Are The Secret to a Contented Life
Spend quality time in the company of others. Friendship, family, loved ones, they link to health and longevity and the benefits have been well documented.
- Lack of Faith – A Higher Purpose Gives Your Being a Reason To Live
I’m not promoting a particular religion here or even that you need to have religion. But there is some pretty compelling evidence that having faith in something bigger than ourselves confers a health and longevity benefit. Of course, correlation does not mean causation You can take it from there.
There you have my essential seven. Now go and; eat, move, learn, sleep, chill, socialize and be inspired for the joy of long life.