Longevity Rainbow

This past week I have been reading I’ve Decided to Live to 120 Years: The Ancient Secret to Longevity, Vitality and Life Transformation by Ilchi Lee.  Interesting concept – to ‘decide’ to live to 120y.  Of course we cannot simply decide to live to 120y, but what if we decide to live our life AS IF WE WILL live to 120y.  Would that change the way you approach your day? Your retirement? Your life?

Interesting thought experiment.

I will confess my initial response was disheartening – why would anyone want to live to 120y?  For me that would mean another 60 years.  Longevity.  Hmm.  Is that such a bad thing?  My thoughts then turned to another 60 years of what?  That is really the thought experiment.  What would you DO – what is your purpose – if you were going to live for another 60 years?

According to Webster’s Dictionary longevity is defined as a long duration of an individual life, but I much prefer the definition given the book The Longevity Solution coauthored by Dr James Dinicolantonio and Dr Jason Fung “Longevity means extending youth not extending old age.”

Such a better perspective!  I’m totally cool with living until I am 120y, so long as I can do so with energy and enthusiasm for my day, independently and with mental clarity.  I know… sounds impossible if not crazy.

Longstanding mental clarity and independence fill the pot at the end of my longevity rainbow, as I suspect is does for most everyone closer to 100 than 1.  And for me, mental clarity is readily attainable but slippery to hang on to.  When I cut the carbs (sugar and flour), my mental clarity soars. I first discovered this toward the end of 2018, when I initially experimented with intermittent fasting and a five day extended fast.  WHOOSH.  Energy and creative inspiration galore, accompanied by a silencing of my inner critic.  Vroom, vroom, vroom – slick thinking.

How can we fill our longevity pot today and every day for a brighter, livelier, and interesting future?

Here is my short list of strategies.

  • Read about and do new stuff. The ‘do new stuff’ part is crucial here.  I read a lot of non-fiction, believing that reading would keep my brain alive.  As it turns out, reading is not sufficient.  My brain already knows how to read so simply reading new material is not helpful – my brain is not forging new neural connections.  But if I actually DO something I have not done before with that information, then I can make new neural connections.  Unfortunately, simply making new connections is not enough – those connections must be reinforced.

In neuroscience this making and reinforcing new connections is called neuroplasticity.  Neuroplasticity occurs when the brain changes in response to experience.  Simply reading about how to knit, won’t create new neural connections but actually doing the knitting – however cumbersome or awkward it seems, will forge new connections.

Most memory-promoting sites recommend learning and practicing a new language or a musical instrument.  Hence my impossible goal to be able to play Bach cello suites.

  • Watch what you eat. There is so much misinformation on the web these days, it seems impossible to sift out what to eat or not eat.  Plant protein versus animal protein, coffee versus tea, keto versus vegan, intermittent fasting versus multiple meals and snacks.  It’s so confusing. Drs. Dinicolantonio and Fung recommend a predominantly plant protein based Mediterranean diet with nightly 12 – 14h intermittent fasts, adequate healthy fats and salt with inclusion of coffee/tea and red wine.  Check out their book for specifics.
  • Intermittent fasting. Routine nightly fasting of 16 – 18h has been shown to increase the expression of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a neuro-peptide important in neurogenesis (new neuron growth) in the brain’s memory center (the hippocampus) improving overall memory.  Intermittent fasting has also been shown to improve sleep, boost immune function and decrease inflammation – all of which can have a beneficial impact on the quality of life with increasing age.
  • Exercise your muscles. As discussed in a recent blog – Twilight Zone Revisited – as little as 20 minutes of moderate cardio exercise daily significantly increases the expression of BDNF in the hippocampus.  Resistance train to counteract age-related muscle loss that occurs each decade after age 30y.
  • Promote flexibility in your joints. Stretch regularly or start a Yoga practice.  Personally, I find Yoga poses too challenging and complicated for my injury-related muscle imbalances. Instead I practice something called Active Isolated Stretching.
  • Enhance/improve your balance. Most people visualize careful execution of various yoga poses for improving one’s balance.  And it’s true, yoga works.  But simply standing on one foot while you prep veggies for dinner is a good place to start.  I alternate from right foot to left foot every 10 – 20 seconds while standing on a flat – side- up Bosu Balance Trainer while I read.  A quick google search on how to improve your balance will yield more than enough suggestions.
  • Exercise your cognitive powers – use it or lose it. Our memory improves the more we challenge it.  The converse is equally true – poor memory is the result of disuse.  As a society we have out-sourced our memory.  The widespread use of smart phones and iphones has been detrimental to our memory capacity. Gone are the days when you could easily recall a 7-10 digit number.  Give your phone a rest – use your memory!
  • Increase mindfulness. We are a distracted society.  Our attention span is shrinking at an alarming rate.  Think about it, it’s impossible to remember anything if you did not notice it in the first place.  Learn to pay attention.  Notice what is happening around you.  Simply by becoming more mindful – to intentionally notice – you will improve your memory.
  • Do something you love and that brings you joy. For those of us closer to 100 than 1, chances are our careers are drawing to a close.  But if you have another 60 years to live, what would you absolutely LOVE to do with your time?  For me it’s to play cello sufficiently well to consider myself a contributing member in our community orchestra.
  • Spends time in nature every day. The impact of solitude in nature cannot be understated.  Appreciate quiet solitude, birdsongs, the magical Northern lights on a cold, clear starry winter night, sunrise/sunset, the wind in the leaves.

I seriously doubt I will live to be 120y, even though longevity runs in my family.  I may well live to 90y though.  Why not choose to spend the next 30 or so years doing something I love and that brings me joy while keeping my brain and body running as smoothly as possible?

What would you do?

Live life, Love Life, Always
Dr Karen