For many of us, predicting how many years we have remaining in this life can be a fun source of speculation. For others, thinking about the sand trickling through life’s hourglass is a sobering reminder of mortality. But regardless of how we feel about aging, there’s no accurate gauge to tell us how much time we have remaining before we shake off this mortal coil.
Or is there? It turns out, based on current research, that there are in fact some indicators that can reveal important clues to our longevity. We recently came across this intriguing article on a website called Eat This, Not That – a funny name for a site with a serious purpose: to empower each of us to make healthier food choices every day. Alexa Mellardo, writer and editor for the website, wrote the longevity article.
The point, as the article explains, is not to answer every question we might have about the number of years remaining to us. Instead, the piece suggests that, if the four clues the article talks about reveal some concerning data, there are changes we might be able to make to maximize the enjoyment of the time we have, and potentially to stretch our longevity just a bit farther.
Longevity is “a Scary Unknown”
“You’ve likely heard time and time again that habits like getting in daily movement, having a positive mindset, eating healthily, staying social, and maintaining an active brain can help you lead a long, happy life,” Mellardo begins. “Longevity is something most if not all of us strive to achieve, and perfecting your daily routine even further can help you boost your chances of lengthening your lifespan.”
To this end, Mellardo has turned to current science to find a handful of specific predictors that can give you a pretty good idea of how long you may live, “barring accidents or other outside forces.” With this information in your back pocket, you can make the necessary adjustments to your daily life to squeeze as many years out of your life as you can. Let’s take a look!
Longevity Tips: The Blue Zones Power 9
First, the basics. We all know that when you want the best possible wisdom about something, you go to the source. And when you want to know how to live longer, you could do worse than to ask the healthiest, longest-lived people in the world how they accomplished it!
The Blue Zones Power 9 are “the habits, rules, and lifestyle choices of individuals who live in destinations with the highest life expectancy.” Specifically, these are folks who live in what are called the world’s Blue Zone regions: the Barbagia region of Sardinia; Ikaria, Greece; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; and Okinawa, Japan.
Mellardo explains: “The Power 9 consist of getting in daily natural movement (through hobbies like gardening), establishing a sense of purpose, following the 80 percent rule (aka, when the stomach is filled 80 percent, stop eating), eliminating stress, eating beans and plants, having a sense of belonging via faith, sipping moderate alcohol, being surrounded by family, and creating a solid group of quality friends.”
That said, what other factors can give you a hint at your future, according to science?
Clue #1: The Eyes Have It
Believe it or not, your eyes may not just the windows of your soul; they might be indicators of your longevity.
Mellardo writes, “According to research conducted by the Center for Eye Research Australia and published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, the ‘retinal age gap’ could be a key indicator or ‘screening tool’ in determining an individual’s longevity.”
She adds, “A significant amount of evidence suggests that the retina’s microvasculature can be a trusted indicator of your brain and circulatory system health. The researchers in this particular study looked at the difference between photos of the fundus, the interior back portion of the eye, and an individual’s actual age, which the scientists dubbed the ‘retinal age gap,’ to see if it’s associated with an increased risk of mortality.”
Sure enough, big retinal age gaps in years “were substantially linked to a 49 percent to 67 percent increased risk of mortality outside of cancer and cardiovascular disease,” according to the study.
“Adding a one-year increase to the retinal age gap resulted in a 2 percent bump in the risk of all-cause mortality and a 3 percent bump in the risk of mortality due to a specific issue outside of cancer and cardiovascular disease,” Mellardo writes.
Clue #2: More Steps Can Mean More Years
Yep, it’s not just a cliché: walking really is good for you, and is one of the most holistic forms of exercise. It moves you out into the fresh air, gets your heart pumping, and is good for your brain, too. But it’s worth knowing a few things before you get to stepping.
“You’re likely aware of the popular ‘10,000 steps a day’ mentality, but there’s some conflicting research out there that questions this daily goal,” Mellardo writes. “In fact, according to a study published in JAMA International Medicine, you don’t really need to walk 10K steps daily in order to lead a long, healthy, and active life.”
Research holds this up, too. In the study, 16,700 female participants with an average age gap of 72 years had their daily steps measured over a seven-day timeframe.
“Women who got in an average of 4,400 steps each day substantially lowered their mortality rate over a follow-up period of 4.3 years, when compared to the females who weren’t very active and only raked in around 2,700 daily steps,” Mellardo explains. “The more steps women got, the death rates continued to decrease before establishing level ground at around 7,500 daily steps.”
So don’t let an intimidating 10,000 step goal keep you from walking. Get out there and do what you’re able to do; it’s truly better than nothing.
Clue #3: Keep Up the Pace
While “slow and steady” isn’t a bad maxim in life, excessive slowdown as you age can be an indicator of problems on the horizon.
“According to a study published in the Journal of Cachexia Sarcopenia and Muscle,” Mellardo writes, “there’s a super quick way to pinpoint how likely older adults are to lose their ability to complete daily activities and maintain their independence. The research shows that ‘slowness’ is a telltale red flag of functional regress among older adults. Having a slow gait or slow walking speed can predict losing functional capacity down the road.”
Tiago de Silva Alexandre, a professor of gerontology in São Carlos, Brazil, explained in a recent press release, “Our study showed that measuring gait speed alone is sufficient for efficient prediction of loss of functional capacity in older adults. Based on our findings, we can say that slowness of gait precedes this loss by several years.”
He added, “This is an important result because it facilitates monitoring of the problem. It also enables not just physical therapists, clinicians, and geriatricians, but also any health professional to detect the risk.”
Clue #4: Aging is a Balancing Act
We’re all told to maintain balance as we move through life, but how often do we take it literally? In the concluding section of her article, Mellardo explores the concept of balance as an indicator of health.
“A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals that individuals who are middle-aged or older and are unable to balance on one leg for 10 seconds may be twice as likely to pass away within 10 years, compared to individuals who can ace the 10-second, one-leg balancing test,” Mellardo writes.
We glanced at the original article, and the premise seems to make sense. “Unlike aerobic fitness and muscle strength and flexibility,” the British article states, “balance tends to be reasonably well preserved until the sixth decade of life, when it starts to wane relatively rapidly, note the researchers. Yet balance assessment isn’t routinely included in health checks of middle-aged and older men and women.”
The sports medicine journal adds that there isn’t any standardized test for balance, and there are few hard data linking it to clinical outcomes other than falls. To remedy that, in the study, 1,700 participants between the ages of 51 to 75 were required to stand on one leg for 10 seconds without the help of added support.
“They stood with the foot of the raised leg placed to the back of the standing one and focused their gaze ahead with both arms at the sides of their body,” Mellardo explains. “Every participant was given three tries. One out of five participants failed the test. The likelihood of failing the balance test was heightened with age.”
The end result was striking. “After accounting for age, sex, and underlying conditions, an inability to stand unsupported on one leg for 10 seconds was associated with an 84 percent heightened risk of death from any cause within the next decade,” said the British source article.
Rajiv Says, “Put More Life in Your Years!”
Rajiv Nagaich is a big believer in doing all we can to add healthy years to our lives. “I mean, really,” he asks – “by now aren’t a lot of the tips about living longer pretty obvious? We can’t control our genetic lottery, and there’s always the danger of illness or accident. But, I’m sorry – if you smoke, if you drink too much, if you over-eat, if you never exercise, you’re squandering the greatest gift you’ve ever received! We know this, don’t we?”
At the same time, Rajiv is quick to add that the quality of our years can be as vital as the quantity. “There’s a saying,” he adds, “that we can’t always add years to our life, but we can add life to our years. I say if you do what you can to maximize your health, if you plan well for the future, if you have a generous and caring spirit, and if you stay close to those around you, your life will likely be a rich one – and I’m not talking about money in the bank!”
There’s some food for thought!
Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!
We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public. As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.
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Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.
Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.
Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!
(originally reported at www.eatthis.com)