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Healthy Aging – Centenarians and Seniors Can Live Healthy, Active, Fulfilling Lives – And So Can You

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Studies of centenarians and supercentenarians have taught us more than we previously knew about the aging process and what keeps us alive. Four Blue Zones, regions of the world with the oldest inhabitants, have been identified. These four areas are: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California, and the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica.
o Panchita Castillo, who recently turned 100, lives in Hojancha, Costa Rica, a place with one of the healthiest and oldest populations in the world. Researchers attribute this longevity to the quality of life in the village. The following are some of the factors that seem to keep these villagers alive.
– You have a strong sense of purpose
– You drink hard water with high calcium content
– They focus on their family
– You eat a light dinner
– You have social networks
– You keep working hard
– You have regular “smart” sun exposure
– They have strong spiritual connections that keep them stress free

o Richard Savage, 100, of Chicago, Speedy Iavarone, 100, of Wood Dale, Illinois, Marcia Hawkins, 100, of Chicago, and Lucia Klas, 102, of Morton Grove, Illinois, were recently treated at the ESPN Zone in Chicago to a free lunch to share their enthusiasm for the Chicago Cubs, despite 100 years of team failure. These centenarians have a keen interest in sport, a passion that continues.
Aging in America
The good news is that Americans are living longer, suffering fewer deaths from heart disease and stroke, and are recovering better from cancer and other diseases. The US population over the age of 65 has increased from 9.5% in 1967 to 12.4% in 2005 to an estimated 20% in 2030 to about 70 million. In 2011, 76 million American baby boomers will turn 65.
Active seniors aged 60 to 99
Here are just a few of the many seniors living active, healthy lives from their 60s through their 90s and beyond.
o Nola Ochs received her bachelor’s degree at the age of 95 from Fort Hays State University in Kansas
o Michael DeBakey, MD, 97, internationally renowned cardiac surgeon from Texas, and Denham Harman, MD, 89, father of the theory of free radical aging, still work and lecture. dr Harman suggests taking vitamins and antioxidants to slow free radical production, specifically vitamins C and E, as well as coenzyme Q-10 and beta-carotene.
o Harry Bernstein, aged 96, became the first published author of The Invisible Wall, recollections of growing up Jewish in the mill town of Stockport, England, during the time of the First World War.
o Irena Sendler, “a Polish social worker who helped save about 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis by smuggling them out of the Warsaw Ghetto and giving them false identities…” died at the age of 98 on 05/12/08.
o Dorian Paster, MD, 86 years old, has been happily married for 48 years and has run his surf camp for over 35 years. “This doctor spends an hour and a half every morning doing squats, flexibility exercises and some work with a 10-pound dumbbell, and he’s praying and conversing with the deceased.
o Wifold Bialokur, aged 71, runs 6.2 miles in less than 44 minutes, smoothly and in control.
o Sheila Johnson, 60, a retired algebra teacher who is the third-ranked player in the USTA 60’s Division, joined Grand Canyon University’s undergraduate collegiate tennis team.
The bad news is that the vast majority of seniors have at least one chronic condition [physical] condition, and 50% have at least two chronic medical conditions that limit their essential activities.
Almost 20% of older Americans also have mental disorders. Many GPs think that psychiatric symptoms are just “normal aging” or chronic physical illness. Almost 90 percent of depressed older patients in primary care receive no or inadequate treatment. Only a very small percentage are treated by a mental health specialist for mental disorders as they age.
The National Comorbidity Study found that by age 75, the lifetime risk of having a diagnosed psychiatric disorder is over 50%. This study found that mental illness begins in the early 20s, followed by a gradual increase in co-morbidities, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, impulse control disorders, and substance abuse. Psychology Today reported similar findings in its own study, Therapy in America.
The answer to these health problems is presented to us every day by authorities and experts in the fields of wellness, nutrition, diet and exercise, counseling, therapy, spirituality. It is up to each of us to find our own path to health. Information and help are available when we look for them. The next step is to follow the directions and advice we are given to improve and maintain our own health and emotional well-being.

In a 2005 National Geographic article, “The Secrets of Long Life,” author Dan Buettner identified three “Blue Zones,” regions of the world with the greatest longevity of their residents. At that time he had identified three such areas, Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California. He recently added a fourth blue zone, the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, where he met and interviewed Panchita Castillo and her 80-year-old son Tommy.

Thanks to Erica Goodstone, Ph.D.

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