Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Living 100 Adventure-Packed (and Worthwhile) Years

by Jen Sommer, PCG Nutritionist

Photo Credit: ChristianityWorks.com

Ever since I read the following quote, I’ve pretty much considered it my philosophy on life:
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely and in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride!” 
That being said, as adventure-packed as I’d like my life to be, I still want it to be a long life, which is why I’m always interested in articles about people who live to over 100 years of age. Most of these articles say the same things: be active, eat lots of vegetables, and have a good social circle, but recently I read one that was a little different. It was called “Odd Tricks People who Lived Past 100 Swear By,” and some of the recommendations at first did seem a little odd compared to what you usually hear for longevity and health. Among the “tricks” were: eating bacon daily, drinking port wine, eating two pounds of chocolate every week, participating in extreme sports, doing what you love, drinking scotch, and—my personal favorite—do what you want and eat what you want.

But after thinking about it, none of those sounded odd to me. Sure, bacon isn’t exactly a health food, but I’ve always said, “All things in moderation,” because a piece or two of bacon a day is unlikely to drastically alter your health. It’s more about the big picture (i.e., what are you eating the rest of the day?). I think that particular centenarian might have been on to something else that promotes longevity: enjoyment. Allowing yourself things that you enjoy can reduce stress and make life, well, more worth living for 100 years. So next to each seemingly odd suggestion, I wrote my interpretation of what actually helped the person live so long. I came up with: enjoyment, indulgence, being social, movement, stress management, adventure, humor and laughter, doing what you love (that one speaks for itself), fun, happiness, having an “I don’t give a F$%#” attitude, and keeping your mind sharp. Yup, those are the keys to a long life.

But how does one interpret the plethora of nutrition studies about what is “good” for us to eat and also apply the quirky habits of those who have lived to over 100? Nutrition authorities (myself included sometimes) are always saying, “Eat this, don’t eat this, eating this will increase your risk of this, eating this will decrease your risk of this,” etc. etc. However, studies rarely “prove” anything. They usually just show a link. So while eating bacon daily might increase your risk of developing heart disease, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. So how do you decide what to do?

Here is what I recommend:
  • Health is important, but so is enjoyment. While I’d still recommend basing your diet on productive foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, I believe it’s okay to include not-so-healthy foods that you enjoy in moderation. And moderation may even be on a daily basis. A life of deprivation is, in my humble opinion, not worth living for 100 years. The occasional indulgence (chocolate and port, anyone?) is okay. I myself just might’ve had ice cream for dinner not that long ago.
  • Be active but know when to slow down. A common thread in this article (and all I’ve seen on living to 100) was being active on a daily basis, but it wasn’t logging long hours at the gym or 80+ mile weeks. It was gardening, dancing, biking around town. It doesn’t have to be hard core; just get out there and move your body. Find an activity you actually enjoy doing, because you’ll be more likely to stick with it and thus reap the long-term health benefits. But also know how to listen to your body and give it rest when needed. 
  • Have an awesome social circle. Whether it be friends or family, it’s important to surround yourself with people you enjoy. Few who lived to 100 did it alone. 
I’ll leave you with another of my favorite quotes that fits the topic:
Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am—a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards. – Edward Abbey

Jen is a registered dietician, a certified specialist in sports dietetics, a former NASM certified personal trainer, and a self-appointed mountain girl. As a cyclist, skier, hiker, and runner (among other things), she knows firsthand the importance of proper nutrition and training. She offers nutrition coaching and consulting through Peaks Coaching Group. Find more great articles and tips at Jen's blog, Mountain Girl Nutrition and Fitness.