Over 50s Lifestyle

Growing Young is it possible? Would you want to?

August 1, 2020
Growing Young - 5 tips for living longer

Would you really like to live past 100? I’m sure for many we would like to live as long as we can with the proviso that we have quality of life.

In a previous interview with Jenny Leigh Hodgsins from Creative Memorial Planning . Jenny and I discussed Creative Memorials and environmentally friendly options for burial. This was for the Conversations with Women Living Well After 50 series so if you missed the Youtube video you can watch it HERE.

I was recently sent a copy of Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help you Live to 100 by best selling author and science writer, Marta Zaraska. Although I found the scientific terminology to be heavy going at times, the book is “a research-driven case for why optimism, kindness, and strong social networks will keep us living longer than any fitness tracker or superfood.

I was curios to meet Marta and interview her to learn more about her research, the mind-body connection and what social hormones are. Marta also explains why she feels that although exercise and diet are important they matter less. I was interested to hear her answer knowing that my background is in health and wellness and believe the foundations of nutrition and exercise are vital for healthy living.

Growing Young – 5 tips for living longer

Growing Young - 5 tips for  living longer

The idea of the ‘Fountain of Youth’ appeals to many. Of course, we all want to live as long as we can. Why did you decide to research and write the book ‘”Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100″?

It came quite naturally out of my work as a science journalist. For many years I’ve been writing for the Washington Post, Scientific American and many other publications about health and nutrition, and I was myself very much into healthy living, too. I did all the usual: healthy diets, superfoods, exercise (with apps and gadgets and whatnot) — but recently I started coming across research that was pointing in a direction I didn’t consider before, both professionally and privately.

It showed that so-called soft drivers of longevity, such as friendship, community, kindness, optimism, might be at least as important to health as diet or exercise, if not more. I got intrigued.

After reading over 600 research papers on this and talking to dozens of scientists, I had enough material to write Growing Young, and to change my own life, too. I discovered, for instance, that while building a strong support network of family and friends lowers mortality risk by about 45 per cent, exercise, on the other hand, can lower that risk by 23 to 33 per cent. And I also learned plenty practical tips, from the importance of not rolling your eyes at your significant other to how holding a hot cup of tea can make you feel less lonely, which comes in very handy in covid times. 

You travelled the world for your research. What was the most interesting interview that you conducted?

It’s hard to pick! I had so much fun doing research for this book, which took me from catching wild mice in the forests of Oxfordshire to visiting a “cuddling” salon in Warsaw, Poland.

But if I really had to choose, I think I’d say talking to octogenarians and centenarians in Japan — after all, the Japanese nation is currently the longest-lived on the planet and people there have often a very different perspective on what it means to live a healthy life.

For example, you may soon learn that it’s not longer Okinawa that is the longevity centre of Japan (that’s old news), now it’s the Nagano prefecture. And diet is not a big issue there. According to health authorities of Nagano among the topmost reasons for why people there live so long (and in one village I’ve visited the average lifespan for men is 82.2 years – six years longer than in US), is something they call ikigai. Ikigai roughly translates to “the reason for living” and research confirms that having it can really boost health. 

One study that followed over 70,000 Japanese people for about 12 years found that those who said they had ikigai had a 26% lower risk of death for men and 33% for women — that’s comparable to the effects of following the famed Mediterranean diet.

How does mind-body connection affect our longevity?

When people hear about “Growing Young” they sometimes assume that it’s all some new-agey stuff, while in fact connections between our minds and our social lives are very much physiological, and very well researched by science. After all we are social apes, just like our cousins chimpanzees, and we’ve evolved to be surrounded by others — that’s when we function the best.

As such, we have plenty of interconnected systems that link our emotional and social life with our physical health — from social hormones such as oxytocin, vasopressin, serotonin and endorphins to the vagus nerve and the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis which regulates stress. 

What are social hormones and how do they affect our relationships and longevity?

These so-called social hormones or social neuropeptides are the reason why being neighbourly or having a happy marriage may add years to your lifespan. Some researchers even argue that social hormones have actually made us human.These are the hormones that are on one hand connected to how we live our lives in relation to others, and on the other with our physiology and health. 

Consider serotonin, for instance, which on one hand can make us more friendly and better at cooperating with other people, and on the other hand it can lower the risk of high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s disease, improve vascular tone and temperature regulation. In mice, serotonin can even help regenerate the liver. Oxytocin, the famed “love hormone”, which you get for instance by hugging others or by looking into their eyes, has anti-inflammatory properties, reduces pain, and helps bone growth, potentially preventing osteoporosis.

You suggest that diet and exercise are important but matter less. What do you mean by that statement?

It’s just the question of numbers. Consider that while eating six servings of fruit and veg per day can cut the danger of dying early by 26 per cent, a happy romantic relationship can lower it by 49 percent. What’s more, we often obsess too much over fad diets and exercise routines, we spend too much time reading about new superfoods, supplements and so on and too much money on exercise gadgets and apps, while not enough on our friendships, on getting to know our neighbors or helping others.

For example, while volunteering can reduce mortality risk by 22 to 44 percent, studies show that omega-3 fatty acids have no impact on your mortality risk whatsoever.Or take vitamins. In a study of over eighty thousand American physicians, those who took multivitamin pills had a 7 percent higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease than those who didn’t go for such supplements.

What are your top 5 tips for living a longer and fulfilled life?

Have a happy (or happy enough) romantic relationships. That’s definitely number one. And I know it’s often easier said than done, but how much time do we really invest in our relationships? I know I’ve been guilty of this myself – spending more time reading about diets and nutritional fads than on cultivating my marriage. And there are sometimes simple tricks to boost that relationship (one of my favourites — going together to amusement parks). Two — friendships. Three — conscientious personality, so being the kind of person that keep the office desk tidy and shows up on time for meetings. And yes, personality can be changed, it can actually be worked on in a similar way in which you can work on your abdominal muscles. Four – optimism, and five — volunteering and kindness. 

Would you like to live to 100 or longer?

Of course! People often tell me, “but I don’t want to live to a 100, I don’t want to be sick and infirm for years”. That’s a common misconception. In fact, while a typical person who lives to be 80 or so will spend 18 percent of their time on Earth ridden by disease, for super-centenarians, so those who live 110 plus, that’s just 5 percent. One out of 10 super-centenarians escapes disease until 3 last month of life only! Just imagine, you live 110 years and are only infirm for 3 months! In general, science shows that the healthier you are the longer you will live and the longer you will stay disease-free. 

What does being a Woman Living Well Mean to you?

It means living kindly. Being focused more outwards, towards others, than inwards. I have a motto glued to the wall in my office: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” (It’s by Nietzsche). For me, my “why” is to do my modest share in preventing catastrophic climate change so that my child, and all other young people, can still enjoy our beautiful planet in the future in a relatively unchanged state.  . Having a purpose not only makes it easier to make it through difficult times (like we have now), but also likely keeps me healthier. 

Meet Marta

Marta Zaraska is a Canadian science journalist. She has written for the Washington Post, Scientific American, New Scientist, The Atlantic, among others. She is the author of Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100, published in June by Penguin Random House, and endorsed by Adam Grant, Dan Buettner, Emeran Mayer, and others.

Marta is also the author of “Meathooked: The History and Science of Our 2.5-Million-Year Obsession With Meat” (Basic Books, 2016) http://www.MeathookedTheBook.com

Twitter: @mzaraska

So after reading Marta’s answers would you like to live to 100+? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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14 Comments

  • Reply Donna Connolly August 1, 2020 at 12:46

    HI, Sue and Marta – I greatly enjoyed this post and found myself nodding my head the whole way through. Optimism, kindness, and strong social networks …I couldn’t agree more!

    • Reply Sue Loncaric August 3, 2020 at 18:12

      Hi Donna,I’m so pleased you enjoyed the post and I found the research that Marta undertook very interesting. We certainly need optimism, kindness and strong social networks at the moment, don’t we? x

  • Reply Sue August 2, 2020 at 03:52

    Dear Sue and Marta, am so glad to learn there are eco-friendly burials – that don’t cost an arm and three eye-balls. Sadly so many people really don’t have much of a choice but to have their departed cremated, because of money trouble.

  • Reply Natalie August 3, 2020 at 07:37

    Hi Sue and Marta, I’ve enjoyed reading this post and agreed with Marta’s top 5 tips. I’ve seen how they’ve worked well for people I know in my social circle and who lived or are living well at 80+ years of age. #MLSTL

    • Reply Sue Loncaric August 3, 2020 at 18:11

      I think we can learn much from our older generation Natalie. x

  • Reply Joanne Tracey August 3, 2020 at 09:00

    Thoroughly enjoyed this and totally get it. Still nodding as I think more about it.

    • Reply Sue Loncaric August 3, 2020 at 18:10

      Thanks Jo, I found it a little ‘scientific’ at times so difficult to read but the research that Marta did was incredible.

  • Reply Erica/Erika August 3, 2020 at 12:48

    Thank you Sue, for introducing Marta to me. I love everything about kindness, optimism and strong social networks. The title of Marta’s book is enticing. The travel and interesting places to visit researching this book is already fascinating. It is good to refresh “old news.” I can already relate to the impact of “ikigai.” Your “happy enough” made me smile. Thank you for sharing a very interesting post.🙂

    • Reply Sue Loncaric August 3, 2020 at 18:02

      Thank you Erica, I found Marta’s book very interesting and kindness, optimism and social networks are so important especially during these uncertain times. x

  • Reply Christina Henry August 3, 2020 at 16:45

    Hi Sue and Marta. From nursing people for 30 years I have seen that the patients who are 90 plus usually have such a different mindset than younger patients – if you live to be that old you usually have few complaints and are more proactive in your recovery. They seem younger than people half their age sometimes. There must be something about their inner spirit that keeps them young. I’ll keep an eye out for your book, as I’m intrigued. Regards, Christina

    • Reply Sue Loncaric August 3, 2020 at 18:09

      Hi Christina lovely to hear from you and I agree with your comments. Perhaps the very old, like my 94 year old MIL have experienced hardship with World War, the Depression etc and they have had to be more resilient than the softer society we now live in.

  • Reply Suger August 4, 2020 at 11:50

    Such an interesting read, thank you for sharing.

  • Reply Debbie Harris August 4, 2020 at 21:20

    This was an interesting read Sue, full of thoughtful snippets. Thanks for introducing Marta and her book to us. I also like the optimism.

  • Reply Denyse Whelan August 6, 2020 at 18:44

    Very interesting to see the science and views behind this premise of living to 100. Interesting. My Dad is 96 and he lived through much of what your MIL did Sue. He still can’t work out how he has managed to do so and he remains well (in his way) and independent. He grew up in a poor household but was always outdoors and helping others. In his working life, and in retirement he took a great interest in many things. I am very much like him but I am not keen to live to his age!

    Thank you for linking up for #lifethisweek #200. Next week, the optional prompt is 32/51 Why Did I? 10.8.2020. I look forward to seeing you then too. Denyse.

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