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Lessons on Youth, From the Very Old

Feb 11, 2015 07:50AM ● By Amy

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By Judy Gaman

About two years ago I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing many people over the age of ninety, as well as several centenarians. I was working on our latest book Age to Perfection: How to Thrive to 100, Happy, Healthy, and Wise which originally started as a compilation of research and checklists. There was so much information out there, some conflicting opinions, and tons of bad advice, so I was inspired to take a grassroots approach and speak with those that had actually been there and done that. What they taught me, changed my life.  

For those in their nineties, I was interested in what made them tick and how they continued to stay active, despite their aging body. The answers were often somewhat humorous, like the gentleman who makes it a point to jump on his trampoline every day for ten minutes, or the lady who took up the trapeze in her late eighties because she had always wanted to join the circus as a young girl. Other answers were more routine, such as eat healthy and exercise. All of the people I interviewed seemed so young at heart. 

When it came to the centenarians, those that had reached that milestone birthday we all dream of, I asked them to provide me with a ‘top ten ways to get to 100’ list. I anticipated that their individual lists would be very different since they came from such different cultures, socioeconomic statuses, not to mention different parts of the country. To the contrary, the lists I received from them were actually quite similar. Common threads sewed their stories together like a patchwork quilt telling of a generation that lived through what most of us only read about in history books. 

If I had to sum up the answers, I could do so in just a few words: sleep, friends, nutrition, exercise, laughter, and forgiveness. It’s like a secret recipe, where all the ingredients need to be included. Missing just one thing doesn’t give you the same result. Only, it’s not a secret at all. We all know these things, but we tend to forget or ignore some of them. 

As part of our preparation for the book, we also asked very young children what it took to live to see 100. They knew. Their answers were almost identical to the elderly we interviewed. Not even having to think about it, their answers came so fast, as if healthy living is inherent knowledge that we are all born with. It really makes you wonder what erases our minds of these truths. It’s as if our brains are reprogrammed as we get older and the pitfalls of life are whispered into our ear each day: “Eat this, you deserve it.” “You need to work until the job is done, forget sleep. Sleep is for the weak.” “Stop playing around and be serious. Seriousness breeds success.” “You don’t need time with friends, just catch up on Facebook.”

So why haven’t the people I interviewed fallen prey to the traps and pitfalls of life? They made a choice to do everything in their power to maintain their bodies, instead of sitting back and watching things fall apart piece by piece. The same goes for all of us. If we don’t follow the recipe, we need to accept that our bodies will fall prey to diseases and disorders. Each day we need to make a conscious effort to eat right, get enough sleep, spend time with friends, laugh, and forgive.

Take with you this wisdom:
1. Refine each day with the right types of ingredients, adding just enough of each one. 
2. Live to be an inspiration to everyone you meet.
3. Don’t stress over things. No matter how big or bad you think they are, keep the attitude ‘this too shall pass’

The people I interviewed miss their friends, spouses, siblings, and many of them even miss their children, but they keep enjoying life, giving love and hope to all of us. They continue to make their life using the same recipe each day. As you go about your day, take time to ask yourself what ingredients you may be missing. 

Judy Gaman is a health and wellness expert at Executive Medicine of Texas. She has authored many books, with her latest award winning book being Age to Perfection: How to Thrive to 100, Happy, Healthy, and Wise. She also co-hosts the nationally syndicated Staying Young Radio Show.