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Living to 100

Part 1: healthy eating

Human beings are living longer in almost all parts of the world, thanks to better eating habits, medical technology and pharmaceuticals, as well as better knowledge about the value of physical movement.

It's no coincidence that North America, Western Europe, and Asia-Pacific - the wealthiest societies since World War II – have enjoyed the greatest overall life expectancy rates. For example, citizens in Japan, Switzerland, and Australia can already expect to live beyond eighty years. The world as a whole is living a lot longer, an average of sixty-seven years according to the United Nations Population Prospects report for 2005-2010.

The explosive growth of those 80 and above, in the past decade in particular, raises an interesting question:

How realistic is it for someone today to reach one-hundred years of age?

If you are relatively young and have a good health history, the quick answer is very realistic - provided that you meet some basic criteria:

  1. Good genetics.
  2. Minimised or eliminated vices (alcohol, tobacco, poor sleeping habits).
  3. Exercised regularly throughout life, especially in old age.
  4. Ate a varied, healthy diet.

We can't control your ancestry and we’ll speak about exercise in the follow-up article. Diet is arguably the most influential factor for a long, healthy life so we discuss it here first.

Research and investigations into the world's longevity champions reveals diets that are rich in vegetables (and some fruits), healthy oils, nuts and whole grains. Surprisingly, dairy and meat play little, if any role in extending one's time on Earth. Some of the best examples of healthy eating groups are the Okinawans ("The Okinawa Diet") of Japan, and Mediterranean islanders.

Even people who regularly eat meat would be wise to include a healthy serving of vegetables as a regular side dish. Not only do fresh vegetables taste great and provide essential nutrients, their water and fibre content keeps you content (helps you avoid overeating).

The older you get, the more vegetarianism make sense if you’re looking to hit the century mark. It may be hard at first to give up on steak dinners and pot roast, but consider that various beans and lentils are excellent protein substitutes - without meat's high cholesterol and saturated fat content. Various green vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach, broccoli) and soybean products provide calcium and other nutrients, rendering milk intake almost unnecessary (N.B. yogurt and the odd slice of cheese should satisfy any dairy fix).

There are so many examples of good diets around. It shouldn’t be hard for you to find one that works for you, and put you on your path to a longer, healthier life.

Part 2: exercise and lifestyle

This is the second of a two-part series on living to 100 years old. In the first article, we discussed dietary factors that influence longevity, and pointed out certain positive eating habits that cross national and cultural boundaries.

The same also holds true for physical exercise and lifestyle. For example, past studies of Greeks on the island of Crete revealed how hard manual labour combined with a typical "Mediterranean" diet reduced the risk of heart disease and extended life. Similarly, the Okinawans of Japan - reigning world champions when it comes to reaching one-hundred years old - pursue an active traditional lifestyle largely unaffected by negative Western influences.

Regular exercise has been shown in study after study to extend life by improving cardiovascular endurance, bone density and overall fitness. Make no mistake, a combination of regular movement (e.g. walking, swimming, weight lifting) every week will make you feel great. Even low intensity work has its benefits, provided you are satisfied with your pace (if possible, pick up the intensity!).

Exercise is also said to be the best medicine and the key to serious disease prevention. Its long-term benefits include eliminating the need for multiple, expensive drugs later in life. Various pills and tablets are effective in narrow roles, but frequently at the expense of causing or compounding problems elsewhere in our bodies.

The perils of osteoporosis, arthritis and chronic pain are keenly felt at any age, but seniors who have been sedentary all their lives are practically defenceless. Don't let inactivity rob you of your future independence! Find a training partner or group workout instructor who can relate to your need to get fit!

Do luck and environmental factors also play a role in whether you can live to one-hundred? Undoubtedly, yes. Surely, you know of people that flaunted their extravagant lifestyles yet somehow managed to hit the century mark or come very close to it.

However, these folks are the exception to the rule. There are no guarantees in life, but to stack the odds in your favour, start following sensible exercise guidelines from a certified professional trainer, strength and conditioning specialist, or trusted physiotherapist. It is your best hope of reversing the aging process.


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