So I’ve been thinking a lot about my health lately as I approach 40 and notice huge changes in my body. I was the girl you didn’t like– the girl who ate whatever she wanted and nothing would stick. Well, those days are now over and I have officially landed on planet earth to join the rest of the world. It’s been sobering, to say the least. Now, no matter WHAT I eat, healthy food included, it ALL sticks. But I’m not going down without a fight, yo.
Yesterday, I decided to spring for the $35 bucks for a cookbook I was too cheap to do before. I’ve been dying to get Miss “Conscious Uncoupling” herself, Gwyneth Paltrow‘s latest foodie book, It’s All Good. I’ve heard great things about it, and I am really trying to be more mindful than ever before when it comes to my health. All jokes aside, I have always been a healthy eater. My mom raised me on organic food and whole grains, and was doing so before people even talked about it.
So when Mom called last night to tell me to turn on 60 Minutes about a retirement community in Laguna, California that is not only living, but THRIVING into their mid to late nineties, I tuned in.
And some of the research is astounding.
Since the start of the 20th century, we have increased life expectancy by a remarkable 30 years – from just 49 in 1900, to almost 79 today. And more and more are making it into that group we all hope – and kinda dread – joining, the over 90 crowd, affectionately dubbed “the oldest old.”
Actually, men and women above the age of 90 are now the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. Yet very little is known about the oldest old, since until recently, there were so few of them.
So what determines which of us will make it past age 90? What kind of shape we’ll we be in if we do? And what can we do now to up our odds? Finding out is the goal of a groundbreaking research study known as “90+.”
Dr. Claudia Kawas spends a lot of time in Laguna Woods these days, a small retirement community 45 miles south of Los Angeles. Dr. Kawas is a neurologist and professor at nearby UC Irvine who discovered the research equivalent of gold here – information gathered from thousands of Laguna Woods residents back in 1981, with pages upon pages of data about their diet, exercise, vitamins, and activities.
Before you go giving up wine and dessert, watch this quick little video of these delicious 90 pluses….
So, let’s get right to it, shall we? What is the latest research on what could make us live longer? What are the results from this groundbreaking study?
No surprise: smokers died earlier than non-smokers.
People who exercised definitely lived longer than people who didn’t exercise. As little as 15 minutes a day on average made a difference. Forty-five minutes was the best. Even exercising three hours a day didn’t beat 45 minutes.
And it didn’t all have to be at once. It could be, for example, 15 minutes of walking and then later in the day gardening or something else. And it also didn’t have to be very intense exercise either.
On Social Connection and Non-Physical Pleasurable Activities
Book clubs, socializing with friends, board games — all good.
For every hour you spend socializing and doing these pleasurable activities you increase your longevity, and the benefit of these things never level off. Simply put, don’t cut off your connection with your friends, mahjong groups, book clubs, doing puzzles, reading and more. These non-physical activities that make you joyful, you should keep on doing.
On Vitamins and Antioxidants
The subjects in the study had definitely been active, but they didn’t strike you as having lived their lives worrying about their health. Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes interviewer was on the edge of her seat waiting for confirmation that those who took Vitamin E lived longer.
Nope. People who took Vitamin E didn’t live any longer than people who didn’t take Vitamin E. They also looked at Vitamin A, C, and calcium… The short answer is none of ’em made a difference.
Oh, alcohol made a difference! But not in the way you may think….
Moderate alcohol was associated with living longer than individuals who did not consume alcohol. Yes, moderate alcohol made these people live longer. Up to two drinks a day led to a 10-15 percent reduced risk of death compared to non-drinkers.
And any kind of alcohol seemed to do the trick. “A lot of people like to say it’s only red wine,” said Dr. Kawas. “In our hands it didn’t. Martinis were just as good.”
And there’s good news for coffee drinkers. Caffeine intake equivalent to 1-3 cups of coffee a day was better than more, or none.
On Weight Gain
Dr. Kawas said if you are concerned with those bulging waistlines, listen to this. It turns out that the best thing to do as you age is to at least maintain or even GAIN WEIGHT.
Here goes: Being a little overweight is good. Being obese is never good. And being overweight as a young person wasn’t good either. But late in life, they found that people who were overweight or average weight both outlived people who were underweight.
“It’s not good to be skinny when you’re old,” said Dr. Kawas.
On Alzheimer’s and Dementia
It turns out the risk of developing dementia doubles every 5 years starting at the age of 65, and it keeps right on doubling. Unfortunately there’s no blood test. There’s no X-ray.
Determining what’s behind memory loss isn’t easy, since diseases like Alzheimer’s can only be definitively diagnosed in the brain after death. So it’s after the 90+’ers die that a new round of sleuthing begins.
After studying dementia in these 90+ subjects, Dr. Kawas suspects one thing that may cause demetia– low blood pressure, and she has some evidence. While none of the factors from the original study — vitamins, alcohol, caffeine, even exercise — seemed to lower people’s risk of getting dementia, the 90+ study discovered that high blood pressure did.
If you have high blood pressure, it looks like your risk of dementia is lower. She went on to say that high blood pressure is still dangerous if you’re younger.
And finally, there were 90+ subjects whose brain scans that LOOKED like they should suffer from dementia, but they didn’t, and vice versa- others who showed no signs of dementia from their brain scans, but yet they suffered. Dr. Kawas went on to explain, “I think we’re looking for too simple an answer. I think we want one thing to explain Alzheimer’s. Look at something different. Like what makes skin wrinkle. Well, I mean, getting older makes skin wrinkle. Being in the sun too much makes skin wrinkle. Not taking care of your diet and then put them all together and they all contribute. I think it might turn out to be the same for our thinking, especially in late life, that it’s not just Alzheimer’s pathology from plaques or not just microinfarcts, but the number of these hits that you take. And after a while you can’t withstand them all.”
On Romance and Sex
The moral of the story? Keep having it! It’s good for your longevity. The people in the study mentioned being very affectionate with one another, and still having sex into their nineties and thriving.
Wow. That’s a handful.
“I really believe that when we learn things from the 90-year-olds, they’re gonna help the 60- and 70-year-olds – not just how to become 90-year-olds, but how to do it with style and as good a function as possible.” – Dr. Claudia Kawas.
AMEN. I’m into aging as happily and healthily as possible. You?
Did you watch this 60 Minutes segment last night? What do you think about the Dr. Kawas’ findings? Are you on track, or off track for living longer? How do you measure up?
I also think that our chemically modified foods, as well as technology and radiation from our smart phones and microwaves will come into play when it comes to the longevity of our generation, and not in a positive way.
Happy Cinco De Mayo! I’m making tacos for dinner. 😉