For many years I’ve enjoyed hearing these words, “You look so young for your age.” After discovering my son was nearing 25, some would get mathematically flattering. “When did you have him? When you were 10?” It used to make me smile until I stopped sharing my age. Now if you ask you’ll hear, “My age is none of my business.” A phrase I borrowed from a world-renowned expert on centenarians (humans reaching the age of 100) Dr Mario Martinez. According to Dr Martinez, “If you want to live to be a hundred or more, never reveal your age. ”
The moment we share how old we are, we subject ourselves to very powerful, cultural distinctions many of which, unknowingly, define our quality of life. There are several fields of science contributing to Dr. Martinez’s theories on aging. Epi-genetics (above the genes) is one. Here’s a quick science lesson to get you up to speed. If you imagine a bell curve of 500 – 100 year olds. In the middle of the curve, you’ll get the majority of the group and the average. Typical science focuses only on studying this group. So this is how we learn about 100 year olds. However, on one side of the curve are the extremely sick, unhappy centenarians while on the opposite side are the exceedingly healthy and happy ones. Dr. Martinez chose to study this group. He’s interviewed over 400 thriving centenarians and reported some of his findings at a seminar I attended early November. Here’s what I learned and get ready for a shock.
Want to live past 100? The surprising truth…
Longevity doesn’t run in the genes (like we’ve been so led to believe). It appears to come out of a sub-culture with contrarian beliefs and behaviours. For example, healthy centenarians rarely visit the doctor. According to Dr. Martinez, when he asked them, “When’s the last time you saw your doctor?” they often said something like, “It’s been such a long time and he’s been dead for years!”
There are no vegan centenarians in the healthy group studied by Dr. Martinez. In fact, there were very few vegetarians. Most of the 400 he studied ate a varied diet with small to average amounts of meat. So far so good. I never made it as a vegan and 15 years as a vegetarian did not see me nearly as healthy as I am now, a gentle (and very grateful) meat eater.
This healthy group of 100 year olds (some were also super centenarians – over 108) were often slightly overweight which blows the study on calorie restricted diets to slow aging, out of the water. It was discovered that a number of them smoked and drank but with an interesting twist. What we might consider habits (smoking, drinking, and overeating) were upgraded by this group to rituals. So they might enjoy the ritual of a cigar in the evening or one glass of port. They weren’t inclined to abuse anything and especially themselves suggested Dr Martinez.
A local publisher, Linda Tenney of EyesOnBC recently wrote an engaging article about her new kayaking hobby. Her childlike delight with the novelty of exploring a new activity caught my attention. Novelty is a hallmark behaviour of the healthy centenarian sub-culture. It was not uncommon for Dr Martinez’s group to begin something big and completely new in life around 80-85 years of age. Many of them reported starting new adventures in life at an age when mainstream seniors are either winding down or already checked out.
Of course, Dr Martinez encourages us to adopt a centenarian mindset as soon as possible and at any age. If you’re already considered a senior you might reconsider that label altogether when you hear this. Our featured group of 100 year olds didn’t consider themselves “seniors”. Some were indignant at the suggestion with demands to be regarded as “adults”. Even when offered the senior’s discount they paid the adult price. This is a perfect illustration of the power of culture.
Without exception, this group had no concept of middle age.
“Middle age? What’s that?! How would I know what the middle was? I’m not dead yet!”
~ common response by a healthy centenarian when asked to identify “middle age”
From this, I learned what might explain my youthful appearance and energy levels. Dr Martinez said he discovered the most important indicator of people reaching the age of 100 healthy and happy was the missing belief in the concept of middle age! If you asked me when is it? I would have to say, “Honestly, I don’t know.” It’s never occurred to me and I don’t remember delving into the concept, ever. Growing up my parents didn’t discuss what middle age meant to them so I suppose I’ve been spared! A few years back, someone suggested I was having a “midlife crisis”. I remember wondering what that meant but not really caring, either.
I’ve kept the best qualities of this super group for last. Healthy centenarians know how to let go! Wha-hoo! They don’t lament and complain. When someone dies (and for them, many have) they allow their grief and let go of their loss. They live their lives with gratitude and appreciation. These are creative and involved individuals. Many live in their own homes and although they rarely join seniors groups, they have rich social lives.
Here’s a cool experiment in which you could participate. Consider yourself someone who “grows older” each year but never ages. Start a new life adventure regularly. Commit to novelty. Upgrade bad habits to rituals or let them go altogether. Do those things and whatever else lights up your heart and I’ll see you at middle age… at 90!