The Baby Boomer generation will never be called the “Greatest Generation.” That title has already been grabbed deservedly by our parents who endured the Great Depression and waged the last truly necessary war. History is still out on us, but one thing is for sure: We will be called the Longest Generation.
The cry from those of other vintages is most likely, “Egads! Not more of them!”
Deal with it. We are here to stay. But are we? Boomers, known for their cockiness, need to realize we may have to work for our longevity. Last week, in the online version of Healthspan, I began a delineation of the 15 “longevity factors,” those choices we can make to live for the long run. I have saved the big guns for last.
Learn to cope with stress. Okay, so we all know this by now. But just in case you need a reminder, pay attention: According to one report by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, modifying stress reduces one’s chance of cardiac events by a significant 30 percent.
The gold standard for longevity, our centenarians haven’t been immune to life’s inevitable stresses but what has distinguished them is their attitude. The New England Centenarian Study shows they are optimistic, use humor as a way of dealing with life’s strangeness, take it all in stride, and are as dedicated to their mental and emotional health as much as they are to their physical health. Often these long-lived folk are without arrogance; they tend to be humble, gaining strength from a spiritual relationship to a higher power.
Exercise, dammit! The hallmark of those who achieve the three-digit life is they have lived actively. If there is anything that has been shown to promote longevity, it is exercise. And we are not talking about Lance Armstrong here. Walking 30 minutes a day is all it takes, according to some very encouraging recent studies. (Do it with a friend and you get the added longevity benefit of social interaction.) Even this mild form of aerobic exercise results in more efficient energy production, which in turn results in less oxygen radical formation, and this means slowing down the aging process.
Weight training is still important even if you aren’t planning on being like Rocky Balboa and making another run up the museum steps at 60. The more muscle you have, the more efficiently you burn fat. With strength training we can reverse the typical muscle loss that comes with aging.
Supplement wisely. Our immune systems are definitely at the mercy of the wear and tear of the years spent fighting off bodily invaders. Yet recent research suggests the weakening of our immune systems isn’t an inevitable result of aging. By bolstering the immune system through nutritional supplementation, we can reduce inflammation that pays off big time by slowing the aging process.
Here is a list of the nutritional supplements we should be considering in order to enhance our natural immunity: Zinc, selenium, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B, and D. You should also consider adding vitamin E, as Italian centenarians were found to have impressively high blood levels of vitamins A and E compared to younger adults. Calcium is another supplement often prescribed to older adults because it will slow age-related bone loss. Vitamin D, from sunlight, fortified milk, or added to calcium supplements, is also necessary for the body to absorb calcium. Consult a nutritionally savvy healthcare provider about your specific needs and dosage.
There are two more longevity factors, but since space prevents me from presenting them here, you will have to go to the Healthspan Web site (HealthspanWeb.com) to find out what they are. Maybe that’s another longevity factor: a little mystery, a little anticipation, wondering what is just around the corner.
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.