Do You Want To Live To Be 100?

08/02/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Many of my more experienced patients make the statement that the golden years aren't so golden, and it got me thinking. Sure, growing old is a drag. Wouldn't it be lovely if we could gain the wisdom of age without the aching joints, the weak eyesight, the forgetfulness, the sagging flesh, and the increased risk of illness?

I am absolutely convinced that aging doesn't have to be a drawn out death sentence. Research shows that we have more control over how our bodies' age then previously thought. In 1998, Swedish researchers studied the only group of people who share genes but not lifestyle: identical twins, separated at birth, and reared apart. If genes were most important, you would expect the twins to die at about the same age, but they don't -- and the average difference convinced the scientists that only about one third of the aging process is influenced by our genes (so much for blaming your early death on your parents).

The conclusion: While we are certainly born with genetic markers that determine everything from our hip size to our risk of hypertension, we are making a deadly mistake assuming that we can't control our genes -- especially when it comes to aging. Not only can you live longer than your parents, you can live more fully as you age. That leaves the number of candles on your final birthday cake largely up to you.

The determining factor is lifestyle. Scientists have looked hard at long-lived populations such as the Japanese living in the islands of Okinawa (home to the world's largest population of centenarians, with almost 600 of its 1.3 million inhabitants living into their second century and Seventh Day Adventists in Utah (a clean living group who avoid alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco and tend to live an average of eight years longer than their countrymen) and they have come up with some common denominators that can be summed up as follows: Eat healthy. Exercise much more. Don't smoke.

There three simple changes can reduce your risk of common age killers such as high blood pressure, chronic bronchitis/emphysema, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, high cholesterol, and cancers. In real numbers, studies show that following this advice can add a solid 14 years to your life. But health is only one part of the equation of living fully into old age. Quality of life is also a big issue. You don't want to just live longer -- you also want to prosper. In my practice I see hundreds of older people and the ones who are living the good life also have a good attitude. Bottom line: Purse happiness. Research shows that happy go lucky types minimize the destructive effects of stress. That isn't to say that they don't get stressed, but they automatically turn the response off much more quickly and return to a positive mental and physical state.

Luckily, a sunny disposition is something you can adopt at any age. Listed below are some simple ways to improve your joie de vivre. Scientists have even figured out how many years each change can add to your life. You do the math (it will keep your brain active and young).

1. Dedicate yourself to the One You Love: + 10 years.
2. Stay in the Rat Race: +2.4 months for every five years worked after retirement.
3. Get a Pooch: +1 year.
4. Make Whoopee: +3-8 years. Also a recent Scottish study revealed that older adults that make love at least 3 times per week look an average of 10 years younger than their less lusty counterparts.
5. Make Getting Better With Age Your Motto: + 7 years. View your life like a bottle of fine vino.
6. Get A Life: +7 years. Just because you are leapfrogging towards the triple digits doesn't mean you have been there, done that, and got the T shirt. Continuing to seek out new experiences and adventures helps to reverse the process of aging.
7. Work The Network and Keep Social Connections: +7 years.
8. Be A Life Long Learner: +2 years
9. Learn how to stay calm, count to 10, and take a deep breath: +3 years.

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