The Naked Truth About Longevity

Only about 35% of us have the longevity gene. The rest is up to us!

Posted Apr 15, 2018

CCO Creative Commons
Source: CCO Creative Commons

Webster’s dictionary defines longevity as “a long duration of individual life.” Currently, there are more people over the age of 65 than at any time in history. There are many theories as to why some people tend to live longer these days, but no doubt genetics plays a huge role. However, the latest studies indicate that of those who live into their 90s and 100s, only 35 percent have the longevity gene. Len Kravitz (2015), professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico, spoke on the dynamics of longevity and said that we need to adapt a philosophy of “healthspan” instead of “lifespan.”

Kravitz says that in order to maintain optimal healthspan, the following are essential: minimizing stress, maintaining physical activity, keeping your brain active, socializing, and laughing more.

In order to create or maintain a healthy lifestyle well into one’s golden years, Kravitz also suggests shedding pounds, if necessary. Being overweight is a major contributor to declining health and well-being as we age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), close to 80 million adults in the U.S. are obese. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer.

“Chronic stress is also a big contributor to aging,” Kravitz said, “and the best way to fight it is with exercise. Incorporate some resistance training, aerobic exercise and mind/body practices to deal with stress at work or wherever the problem exists. When you take this multi-faceted approach, you can mediate the stress and have less cognitive decline as well.”

Pietri et al. (2017) studied the island of Ikaria, a small island in the Aegean Sea that has one of the world’s longest-living populations. Apparently, centenarians were on the island as many as 400 years ago. Pietri correlated the increased chance of longevity there to factors such as air, water, community spirit, sparse diet, and inherited disposition. In essence, these people live on one of the very poorest islands, yet they are the happiest and live the longest of all those in the entire Aegean Sea.

In addition to keeping active physically, keeping active mentally is equally as important for longevity. Every culture has its own way of keeping the mind active. After the Holocaust, Viktor Frankl, author o Man's Search for Meaning, author/psychiatrist (1959), wrote about logotherapy as a key to survival—the idea that each of us needs to have meaning in our lives. The French call this un raison d’être—literally, “a reason to be.”

Frankl advocates the idea that the primary motivational force for human beings is the search for meaning. This might be a passion, but it could also be a life mission or contribution to society at large. During his time in a concentration camp, Frankl learned that there was “nothing to lose” except his “so ridiculously naked life” (p. 9). In other words, we can be stripped of everything except our passion and will to live.

The Japanese have a similar philosophy about the keys to longevity. Garcia and Miralles (2016) wrote the stellar book, Ikigai, which the Japanese call the passion inside of you or your unique talent that gives meaning to your day. Like Frankl, Garcia and Miralles say that our mission in life—if we don’t already know it—is to find our ikigai. He goes on to say that there are ten keys to longevity, which are all extremely logical and certainly worth sharing:

  •             Stay active; don’t retire
  •             Take it slow
  •             Eat until you’re only 80% full
  •             Surround yourself with good friends
  •             Get in shape for your next birthday
  •             Smile
  •             Live in the moment
  •             Have gratitude
  •             Reconnect with nature
  •             Follow your ikigai

References

Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s Search for Meaning. New York, NY: Touchstone.

Garcia, H. and F. Miralles. (2016). Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Kravitz, L. (2015). “The Secrets of Longevity.” Targeted News Service, Washington, DC. February.

Pietri, P., T. Papaicannu, and C. Stefandis. Environment: An old clue to the secret of longevity. Nature. Issue 7651: 316. April 26.