Hyaku-nen no jinsei-do.Translates from Japanese to ‘the way of one-hundred-year life’. As does the calligraphy above beautifully written by Ritsuko, a young Japanese student that I met selling her art in the Pitt Street Mall in Sydney’s CBD and who graciously created it for a small donation
The question of how ‘how long will I live?’ crosses everyone’s mind more than once I’m sure.
Personally, I find myself thinking about my purpose and what sort of foot print I might make upon leaving this world. Not in a macabre way more with questioning mindset – ‘am I making the most of my life, my opportunities? What can I do better and how can I maximise my potential? What can I do to ensure that not only do I live a longer life, but a healthier one too?
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered ‘Man’. Because he sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never lived.
The reality is that we do have the ability to elongate our lives. It’s all about cells and the creation of news ones as your current cells expire. Sure, the human race is living longer currently. Dr Libby Weaver has a great counter question to those who would say – we are already living longer so no need for all this healthy intention. ‘Are we Living to short and dying too long’?
What I’m talking about is living beyond a hundred years old but still walking every day, socialising with your friends and family and still having purpose in your life.
From my own research I believe it’s possible to do that. I’ve selected three key categories which I consider crucial to master;
1. You are what you eat
It’s literally true. Nutrients from the food you ingest provide the foundation for the structure and integrity of every cell in your body. Your skin (largest organ of the body) hair, muscle, bones, digestive and immune systems all need the right nutrients to build the healthiest cells. Every cell in our bodies has a shelf life. Some a few days (stomach cell) some a few months (red blood cells) so every day cells are dying and new ones being formed. If you’re on a bender of highly processed foods you are not giving your body much to work with.
Clean up your act on what you eat and your body immediately responds to it. Make your diet clean, nutrient rich with whole foods and follow the food plate rule of 70% carbohydrate, 20% protean and 10% fatty acid on your plate for your three meals a day and you’re on your way to a life less susceptible to premature aging and disease.
2. Exercise everyday – walk it off
Most people have a love hate relationship with exercise. There are literally more excuses for why not to train than any other subject on the planet. You’d have to be living under a rock not to have read an article espousing the merits of a decent sweat every day, and yet it’s a discipline we still struggle to master.
There is some good news here though. Walking is an excellent form of exercise and has been medically linked to longevity of life. A study led by American Cancer Society researchers has found that even low levels of walking are linked with lower mortality, which means walking may help people live longer.
One hour a day, brisk walking is optimum, however even a little walking at a moderate pace can decrease the risk of death in older citizens when compared to those with little or no activity. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure, burns body fat and lowers blood sugar levels. All of the these benefit the heart, the power of exercise to help the heart cannot be understated.
Whilst the jury may still be out on the argument that regular exercise provides a direct correlation to longevity of life it is incontrovertible that regular exercise and a physically active lifestyle gives you quality of life – better health, function and independence into old age.
3. The human body is a miracle – but we need to stress less
Whilst we’ve spoken about food and nutrients, let’s take a look at it from our body’s perspective. Food equals nutrients or fuel for your body they in turn are simply vitamins and minerals that enable the biochemical pathways to transport nutrients to the relevant parts of your body.
Deficiency in Nutrients means that biochemical pathways don’t function properly and this has consequences, your body can’t get what it needs and this is where the damage to cells can begin. Your body is made up of about 50 trillion cells that all want to communicate with one another, the only way they can do that is when nutrients are present. The only place to get the nutrients is from whole - real food, so you can see why we really are what we eat.
No-one can change the outcome of eating the right food, or ensuring you get the right nutrients - only you can do this. You have to care enough about yourself to do something about it. Optimising your body so that it can reproduce healthy cells more of the time is critical for longevity. Which is why our food choices are so important. When cells are made with defects or deformities they mutate and eventually disease.
Another important factor to the growing of healthy cells is the state of mind you put your body in. Let’s take a quick look at human anatomy and physiology to better understand the impact of stress on our bodies and what are the unintended consequences of the modern day lives we lead.
The Central Nervous System (CNS) is under the control of your conscious mind. Meaning you can instruct it. Command it. Speak, stop speaking, move your legs, hands, arms etc.
Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is under the control of your sub-conscious mind. This is part of the nervous system that you can’t instruct It has your survival at heart but also controls functions like how fast your hair grows, your nails grow, how quickly your body repairs itself etc.
There are two branches to the ANS. The sympathetic nervous system which manages your flight or flight response. (let’s call that the red zone) parasympathetic nervous system which is rest, digest, repair and reproduce part of your system. (let’s call that the green zone)
Most of us spend more time in the red zone these days. Remember that 150,000 years ago the sympathetic nervous system was designed to literally save your life. Fight or flight responses fuelled by huge increases of adrenaline would communicate to the body and trigger the act to survive - to fight or flight when in mortal danger.
These days physiological stress is the driver. Our perception of pressure and urgency is driving this outcome. We have created our own pressure and urgency. To-do lists, working and raising families, financial pressures, work pressures, deadlines, email on every device and social media increasing peer pressure.
No more are we concerned with something eating us, we’ve replaced that with something far deadlier in my view.
Think about Lions and Zebra’s sharing the same water hole. The Zebra has evolved enough to understand when the lion is hunting and when she’s not. So, whilst of course there is a watchful eye on the lion the flight/fight response and adrenaline levels are low and the Zebra isn’t stressed. The human however has moved to an environment where stress is high for significant periods of the day, of the week, of the year with little respite.
Living in the red zone, means making adrenaline. Your body is reacting to flight fight and so changes occur within your body. Blood pressure goes up. One in three adults have high blood pressure in Australia. When you live in the red zone the rich blood that supports the activities required within your digestive system now move to your limbs, arms and legs to enable you to power yourself away from danger.
The human body is constantly making decisions as to what’s the best fuel for you to use for the current circumstances you’re in at that time. Your body is choosing between glucose or fat or a combination of both as the fuel it needs to draw from
As your body is acting as though you are in danger and you are in the red zone it’s going to choose a food source that will give immediate response to high energy and the need for power. So it chooses glucose. You can burn it fast
Many people - especially in the enterprise/business environment go looking for sugar around 3pm in the afternoon. Because your body is living in the red zone, you have perception of stress and deadlines and so your body is working to support the space you have put yourself into.
The only thing Science knows about how to live longer in the green zone is to extend our exhalation - that’s it!
Yoga has become so mainstream (and yes! the yogi’s have known this forever) because we can destress from our day and take on a breathing and meditative state that pushes our body to live more in the green zone than the red zone.
Have a ritual that makes you become breath aware.
Baby’s breathe through their nose and their tummy’s go up and down. That’s called Diaphragmatic breathing. When you breathe like that and your diaphragm moves with your breath you are communication to every cell in your body that you are safe. You could never breathe like that if your life was truly in danger.
In wrapping up then, eating, exercising and our state of minds are all critical factors that play a part on how our body responds to its environment. My view is that living longer and healthier is a personal choice. Raising our standards on something as everyday as nourishing our bodies will support a healthy body and mind and could ultimately lead to more years on this amazing planet.