As I get older, I have to admit the subject of longevity is more interesting to me. I have been looking into what the secret to a long healthy life might be. I am slightly surprised by what I have found but not disappointed. There is as Curly stated in the movie City Slickers, one thing. But, I am not giving the answer away just yet.
Of course, eating healthy and exercise is a big part of overall health. However, it is not necessarily the sure way to longevity. The woman who has lived the longest life so far was Jeanne Calment. She lived in France. She smoked from the age of 21 to 117. She ate 2 pounds of chocolate a week and rode a bicycle till she turned 100 and took up fencing at the age of 85. However, she was not a health nut. She suffered many losses and changes in her life and throughout she kept her wit and her cool. Ms. Calment was basically immune to stress.
Studies of the long living Okinawans in Japan have found several factors that explain their longevity. These include:
The psychologist Lewis Terman started a study called the Longevity Project in 1921. He and his successors followed 1500 children over the course of 80 years. They came to some interesting conclusions. They found that conscientious children and adults stay healthier and live longer. The reason for this is that they are more likely to take care of themselves and adopt a healthy lifestyle. They also seem to be less likely to develop diseases in general, and they form healthier relationships.
The Harvard Longevity study followed Harvard grads from 1940 till they died. The study found that the secret to a long and happy life had to do with having close relationships and finding a path that is fulfilling. Those who participated in vigorous exercise on a regular basis also lived longer.
Thus far I have left out the one thing that all these studies found when it comes to the secret of a long and healthy life. It is true that healthy eating and exercise make a difference and that learning to cope with stress is important and that it helps to be conscientious, but the real secret is love. Whether it is the love of people or a passion (such as Beethoven and music), the true secret of longevity is simple. It is to love and be loved.
“Where there is love there is life.” Mahatma Gandhi
I recently returned from an amazing trip to Bhutan; a small country tucked between Tibet and India. Bhutan is known as the happiest country in Asia promoting “Gross National Happiness”. It is also known for spectacular monasteries and terrain. One of its national treasures is the Tiger’s Nest.
It is said that the Guru Rinpoche (also known as the second Buddha) visited Bhutan in the 8th century. Legend has it that he flew in on the back of a tigress and stayed on the side of a cliff to meditate for three months. This place is known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery and is one of the most sacred religious sites in Bhutan.
To get there you need to hike up the cliff that quickly goes from 7000 to 10,000 feet. It was not easy. Our guide said to take it slow and to stay in the moment. He also suggested repeating the meditation words that the monks use in prayer. The words are: Om Mani Padme Hum. I am in pretty good shape, but I noticed as I started going higher that I was breathing heavy and getting light headed.
So, I decided to give the meditation words a try. The harder it got, the faster I repeated them in my head. Before I knew it, I was at the top. I was amazed. I made it in one piece and it was beautiful and well worth the climb!
Meditation is something I have done most of my life. I have tried Transcendental Meditation, Mindfulness meditation and Yoga meditation. This was the first time I had tried the Tibetan/Buddhist form of meditation. They all work, if you actually do them. That of course is the key.
For me, meditation has become a twice-daily habit just like brushing my teeth. If for some reason, I forget, I feel off balance. I do it because it makes me feel better. There is a fair amount of scientific evidence that substantiates that feeling. Recent studies of meditators have found that they are able to preserve more brain matter and function as they age compared to non-meditators. In addition: It is helpful with anxiety disorders, asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain and sleep problems.
To meditate, you focus your thoughts either by repeating a word, set of words, following your breath or listening to a guided meditation. If done correctly, it lowers your blood pressure and pulse and will evoke a relaxation response in the body. It can be done anywhere or anytime. You can do it while you are walking or sitting quietly. There are tapes to help and phone apps.
There is no downside. If I can do it so can you. Meditation got me to the top of Tiger’s Nest. There is no telling where it will help you to go. Try it today!