Increase Longevity: Live Longer and Healthier

Regardless of past lifestyle habits, you can positively influence your health and longevity right now.

| January/February 2008

  • Clean water, good air quality, tight-knit social communities and low stress can all contribute greatly to how long we live.
    Photo By line-of-sight/Fotolia

  • Excellent nutrition is essential for longevity. Berries are particularly rich in health-promoting antioxidants.

Many cultures have had stories and legends of the elixir of life, claiming to keep one young forever. The Romans searched for the River of Immortality. The mythology and poetry of the Greeks was likewise filled with yearnings for a long life. While many sought a long life on remote islands or in bubbling streams and steaming pools, others discovered longevity with healthy living and spiritual discipline. The Chinese Taoists, for example, tried to conserve their vital energies so that life became essentially effortless. They practiced tai chi to keep their bodies cleansed, learned how to reduce their breathing rate and ate very minimally. Fruits and roots were their staples, leaving no room for meat, alcohol or even grains.

Cultures of Longevity

Even today, there are cultures whose members have managed to achieve long, healthy lives, many living beyond 100 years. The Hunza people (of northern Pakistan), the Vilcabamba (of Ecuador), the Abkhasia (of an autonomous republic of Georgia) and the Okinawans (of Japan) have maintained extraordinary life spans, the majority living to be at least 100 years old. A low-calorie diet based on plant sources; regular exercise; a clean environment; and vibrant, socially supportive communities all are characteristics of these cultures.

Some people believe that following the example of these indigenous people is useless because of the role that genes play. Yet according to John W. Rowe, M.D., coauthor of Successful Aging: The MacArthur Foundation Study and one of the foremost experts on the relative importance of lifestyle choices and genetics, “Only about 30 percent of physical aging can be blamed on genes and as we grow older, genetics become less important.”

For that 30 percent, Rowe says, genetic testing can be performed. Take some time to compile a family medical history. Common life-threatening illnesses with a genetic component include osteoporosis; hemochromatosis; kidney disease; diabetes; cardiovascular diseases (atherosclerosis, heart disease, hypertension and stroke); and a laundry list of cancers (kidney, stomach, endometrial, skin, colorectal, prostate, ovarian, breast, lung and brain). These illnesses are uncommon in Okinawa, Hunza, Vilcabamba and Abkhasia, where synthetically created drugs are unheard of. The natural surroundings and lifestyles of these cultures decrease the incidence of age-related diseases and offer a variety of natural treatments.

Super Supplements for Staying Young

Nature has given us a wealth of remedies and treatments that can help our bodies heal and prevent us from getting sick as we age. Certain herbs and supplements are known for their life-giving and life-enhancing effects. Coenzyme Q10, for example, is necessary for the basic functioning of cells. Occurring naturally in the body, CoQ10 diminishes with age, and low levels have been associated with chronic ailments, such as heart conditions, as well as fatigue and muscle weakness. Supplementing your wellness routine with CoQ10 also can prevent premature aging of the skin. Alpha-lipoic acid is another important compound that the body requires. A potent antioxidant, it might prove useful in thwarting Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and diabetes. For decades, alpha-lipoic acid has been used in Germany to treat diabetic neuropathy.

Ginseng (Panax ginseng), long revered in Asia, can enhance the body’s ability to combat stress and help normalize bodily functions. Many research studies demonstrate that ginseng can increase energy, boost the immune system, protect the liver and heart, normalize blood sugar levels and improve cognitive functioning. Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) and echinacea (Echinacea spp.) have been shown to fight colds and flu while royal jelly, propolis and bee pollen are known for their rich supply of vitamins, minerals, enzymes and amino acids, as well as antibiotic properties. Probiotics, such as acidophilus and lactobacillus, are microorganisms that promote the good bacteria in the gut needed to digest food and to enhance immune functioning. Probiotics often are used to offset the side effects of antibiotics, which kill both unfriendly and friendly bacteria in the gut.

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