Just one hundred years ago, to live until sixty was a great feat, given that the life expectancy was around fifty-one years for men and fifty-five for women. Now, centenarians—those 100 or older—are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. Currently, there are about 53,000 centenarians in the U.S. and, because this group is increasing at the rate of 75,000 people per year, there will be 600,000 centenarians by 2050. That’s right! Ten times as many Americans will be over 100 years old two generations from now. Research of Dr. Mario Martinez—a study of 700 healthy centenarians from all over the world—reveals that centenarians share similar characteristics.
What causes us to die? Certainly there exist many factors. However, one of the common threads is stress. Stress arises from activation of what I have called the automatic brain, which is our body’s inherent mechanism that causes us to fight or flee anything our brain perceives could be dangerous. The electrochemical response this causes releases elements that cause us to experience stress. But it also wears our body down. Studies using compounds called beta blockers, which block the electrochemical fight-or-flight reaction, find that those animals, insects, or humans exposed to them tend to live longer.
Here are some of the similar characteristics of centenarians:
They are rebels who don’t go along with the beliefs of their cultures. They create their own culture.
An inner confidence helps us feel safe no matter what the circumstance, thereby blunting any stress response. Independent thinking, when rational and appropriate, can lead to self-confidence, security, and a sense of inner peace.
They don’t go to doctors to keep them well. Many of their doctors are dead, and they tend not to align with traditional Western medicine.
Traditional, conventional, or Western Medicine tends to be physician focused rather than patient centered. This mean, doctors (most of my colleagues, actually) tend to view patients as needed to be fixed rather than empowering them to learn how to fix themselves. Having a sense of self-empowerment and personal responsibility creates a feeling of control and safety within one’s body and environment and centenarians seem to have this.
They indulge in pleasurable rituals daily, like one cigar, a small scotch, or a brownie. The key is it’s a ritual—think tea ceremony not a mindless binge.
Strict rules and restrictions can cause stress and living by them on a daily basis can wear us down. Moderation and self-control have the opposite effect.
They live in the present and look forward to the future. They have events and new challenges to look forward to.
Regrets of the past can lead to depression and insecurity—two very powerful activators of stress. Knowing that a well-lived present will lead to a safe future is a secure feeling and one that relieves and prevents stress.
They do not identify with their peer groups or identify with age—they don’t like being around what they call old people, many of whom are younger than they are.
How many times have you heard people say “It sucks getting old”? Well those are exactly the people with whom centenarians don’t associate (and with whom we should not either). Harboring bad thoughts about yourself as you age creates an inner disharmony, imbalance, and inevitably causes stress.
They live in subcultures that support maximizing their ability to live agelessly.
Living amongst others or creating an environment that supports living while still alive is much different from living in environments that supports dying. While we are still alive we owe it to ourselves to keep living. And this is a solid approach whether you are 105 or 55.
Quality of life is important and there is nothing that says living to an advanced age precludes that quality. However, we must be proactive. More than anything it is maintaining a young mindset and an enthusiasm for living. It is not believing, trusting, or taking direction from the signs around us that may indicate that we should live in constant fear. After all, as long as I am alive, I plan to live.
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