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The Longevity Bible
8 Essential Strategies for Keeping Your Mind Sharp and Your Body Young
By Gigi Vorgan
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- Hardcover $37.00 $47.00 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 1, 2006. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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8 Essential Strategies for
Keeping Your Mind Sharp and
Your Body Young
Gary Small, M.D.
with Gigi Vorgan
We dedicate this book to our loving family,
especially our children,
Rachel and Harry.
Their sweet faces and enthusiasm
enrich our lives every day,
and make us grateful
for the quality of our longevity.
Quality Longevity—Living Longer, Younger, and Healthier
It is not enough to add years to one’s life … one must also add life to those years.
—JOHN F. Kennedy
You’re savoring your ritual cappuccino across the street from your dentist’s office when this incredibly handsome young guy sits down two tables over. Your eyes meet his and he smiles seductively—you practically choke. You could swear you know him from somewhere. … He gives you a little wave. Where the heck could you know him from? He’s so young. And you’ve been married a long time. Oh my god, he’s coming over! Could this amazing hunk possibly be hitting on you? Ridiculous. No way! Thank God in heaven you just had your teeth cleaned. He grins broadly. “Hi! Remember me?!” You’re completely at a loss. “I’m Andy! Andy Carter! I was on your son’s basketball team in middle school.” You freeze with a ridiculous smile on your face and a sudden urge to evaporate into thin air.
Age reminders happen to everyone. It could be as simple as the appearance of a single gray hair, the first time someone calls you “Ma’am,” or perhaps walking into a room and forgetting the reason why. None of us can stop time, but we can slow down the effects of aging—and sometimes even reverse them.
A mere one hundred years ago, people were lucky to live beyond age forty. Now, life expectancy has risen to age seventy-four for men and eighty for women, and recent studies show that the average sixty-five-year-old American can expect to live another seventeen years. Modern medical science is striving to keep us alive well into our nineties and beyond, and most people say they want to live as long as possible. But who wants to live to be one hundred without their health, vitality, and faculties intact? That’s where The Longevity Bible’s Eight Essentials come in—showing us how to keep it all together—our brains, our bodies, and our attitudes.
The Eight Essentials
Traditionally, magazine and television advertisers have focused their marketing strategies on youthful looks and attitudes to attract consumers to their products. Recently, however, there has been a shift in tactics. Today, Madison Avenue’s emphasis is not so much on youthful demographics but on “psychographics”—marketing focused toward the age group in which consumers actually perceive themselves as being. Try asking baby boomers how old they consider themselves, not in actual calendar years, but mentally and physically. Many will confess they still have the attitude of a twenty-five-year-old and feel nowhere near their chronological age.
Most of us protest against the idea of aging in the way our parents did and vow to fight against the process as long as possible. We are looking for a safe, convenient, medically sound way to live longer, empower ourselves, and remain healthy and fulfilled throughout that long life—what I refer to as “quality longevity.”
Empowering ourselves for the future requires learning new skills, as well as honing the ones we already have. In my last book, The Memory Prescription, I showed how we could jump-start our brain and body fitness by focusing on four of the basic essentials: achieving mental sharpness, physical fitness, a healthy diet, and stress reduction. Now, in The Longevity Bible, I outline my entire program—all Eight Essentials—to allow every one of us to achieve our own maximum, quality longevity in every area of our lives. These essential strategies include keys to keeping a positive outlook, cultivating healthy relationships, getting the most out of modern medicine, and adapting and flourishing in a changing environment.
We’ll look at the science behind the Eight Essentials, and at simple and practical ways for integrating them into our daily life. When practiced together, these Eight Essentials create a synergy that achieves positive results faster and far more effectively than could be achieved by doing them individually.
Fix Your Brain First: The Rest Will Follow
We begin our longevity solution by sharpening our minds (Essential 1) and maximizing our brain fitness. Fix your brain for longevity, and your body will follow in kind. By keeping our minds sharp, we are more inclined to stay physically fit, enhance our relationships, maintain a longevity diet, and follow the other healthy lifestyle strategies outlined in this book. In fact, all the Essentials contribute to keeping our brains young, fit, and cognitively strong throughout all stages of life. Simply doing mental aerobics can significantly improve memory skills and, when combined with the other Essentials, may extend life expectancy. A recent study found that mentally stimulating leisure activities such as reading, doing crossword puzzles, or playing board games lowers the risk for Alzheimer’s disease by nearly a third.
Scientific evidence shows that keeping a positive outlook (Essential 2) helps us to stay healthy and live longer. In a recent study, positive and satisfied middle-aged people were twice as likely to survive over a period of twenty years, as compared to more negative individuals. Optimists have fewer physical and emotional difficulties, experience less pain, enjoy higher energy levels, and are generally happier and calmer. Positive thinking has been found to boost the body’s immune system so we can better fight infection.
When we feel good, it boosts our self-confidence, which helps us to have better relationships (Essential 3). The MacArthur Study of Successful Aging found that people who are socially connected may survive up to 20 percent longer than those who live more isolated lives. Today, we have many tools to help us connect with others, shore up self-doubt, and make ourselves feel and look younger and more beautiful, both through medical and nonmedical techniques. Despite the myth that libido declines with age, several scientific studies have found that our desire and need for sex continues throughout our lives. A healthy sex life at every age helps lower blood pressure, reduce stress, ward off depression, boost the immune system, diminish pain, maintain physical fitness, and even extend life expectancy.
Stress is among the leading causes of age-related disease (Essential 4). It contributes to physical pain, as well as to the appearance of wrinkles and premature aging. Few people realize that our ability to adapt to our ever-changing environments can greatly contribute to lowering our stress levels. Whether it’s traffic, smoke, clutter, noise, mold, smog, or information overload, our quality longevity depends upon our ability to adjust to these environmental influences (Essential 5). Personalizing our immediate surroundings, at home and at work, is an important environmental element that is within our control.
It is much easier to maintain a positive attitude when we enjoy good health, and the best way to ensure that is by eating a healthy diet and staying physically fit. With so many fitness options available, there is bound to be something that appeals to just about everybody. Along with the basics of tennis, jogging, cycling, swimming, and yoga, many people are getting fit with Pilates, weight training, Bosu ball, spinning, salsa dancing, ballet, trail running, and more. Essential 6 will introduce the Longevity Fitness Routine, which covers cardiovascular conditioning, balance and flexibility work, and strength training—the three vital fitness areas for maximizing health, boosting energy levels, and preventing many age-related diseases. Recent research has found that regular physical activity can add two or more years to an individual’s life expectancy.
Reducing the clutter in our lives is a powerful way to lower stress levels. Just as it feels good to occasionally clean out your closet and get rid of the clutter there, it can sometimes become necessary to reduce relationship clutter—clean your emotional house—and conserve your energy for the people you love or care about. At times, relationships may become more damaging than they are enriching—old friendships that were once meaningful can become simply old habits that may have negative effects but are hard to break.
A healthy diet can have a major impact on life expectancy by lowering our risk for heart disease, cancer, and other age-related illnesses. Longitudinal studies have found that a diet that emphasizes the right food choices and helps people stay at their target body weight can increase survival rates by 50 percent or more. We’ll learn about the Longevity Diet (Essential 7), a healthy diet plan that allows you to eat all of your favorite foods—even naughty desserts. It incorporates the best scientific data on healthful eating for longevity and weight control, combined with some of the most satisfying and delicious foods available. Just as fitness experts now tell us that for long-range health, it’s best to cross-train our bodies by emphasizing aerobics one day, weight training the next, and perhaps yoga the day after that, the Longevity Diet shows us how to cross-train our eating, allowing us to break free of the boredom and repetition of today’s popular low-carbohydrate, South Florida, salmon-every-meal diets. We can enjoy a barbecued steak and a Caesar salad one day and a delicious pasta dinner with whole-grain crusty bread the next. The Longevity Diet allows our bodies to break free of today’s fashionable diets and learn to process all good foods in realistic portions, while feeling sated, satisfied, and anything but deprived.
We will look at the latest in medicines and treatments designed to keep us young (Essential 8). From smart drugs to Botox to microscopic lasers, we’ll learn about the options available to keep us looking and feeling youthful throughout our lives. Even simply taking drugs to lower blood pressure has been shown to increase life expectancy by at least two or more years, and scientists have found that cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can increase survival rates of heart patients by more than 50 percent.
Many baby boomers may recall the 1960s Harvard professor who traveled to India and became the guru known as Ram Dass. His “Be here now” message became the mantra for staying in the moment, neither worrying about the past nor stressing over the future. His message echoes that of many other teachers, ranging from Martin Buber to Lao-Tzu.
We don’t have to become spiritual gurus to live a long, healthy life, but attempting to stay in the moment helps us to achieve quality longevity. Mindfulness or mindful awareness—the subtle process of moment-to-moment awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical states—is key to sharpening memory and staying mentally fit. Initial research suggests that this ability not only reduces stress and anxiety, but also boosts the immune system and promotes health and healing for a variety of medical illnesses and conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and chronic pain.
This underlying principle of mindful awareness can be applied to nearly all of the Eight Essential Strategies. Having an awareness of our bodies and what is going on around us helps us maintain balance and avoid danger. Awareness of our internal sensations reminds us to stop eating when we are sated—a key to maintaining our target body weight. By integrating mindful awareness into our daily lives, we not only enjoy ourselves more and live longer, we take better care of ourselves, have a more positive outlook, and feel more empathy toward others.
Mindfulness often fosters a sense of spirituality, and several studies have found that people who pursue some form of spirituality live longer. Recently, investigators found that visiting a house of worship just once a week can extend life expectancy by nearly a decade. Studies of patients with chronic physical illnesses have found that those who believed in God had a 30 percent lower mortality rate as compared with those who felt abandoned by God. The increased longevity benefits of spirituality result from many of its forms, including religion, meditation, a personal belief in a higher power, and more.
Many of the benefits of The Longevity Bible’s Eight Essentials can be achieved in a remarkably short period—as little as fourteen days. My research team at UCLA conducted controlled studies to test how well volunteer subjects could improve their brain and body fitness by focusing on just four of the essential strategies: mental aerobics, physical fitness, stress management, and a healthy diet.
We found that after just two weeks, the volunteers who followed the healthy longevity lifestyle program (as opposed to the control group who merely continued their usual behavior) experienced improved memory performance and brain efficiency. They also reported greater levels of relaxation and lower levels of stress.
We observed significant physical health benefits as well. Many volunteers on the program lost weight and experienced a significant decline in blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Shirley I., a thirty-four-year-old social worker raising a young daughter on her own, had always been fastidious and fiercely independent. She lived with a certain level of stress in her life, but it was constant, and she had developed habitual ways to cope. Sometimes she let off steam by shopping. But why not? Imelda Marcos had more than three hundred pairs of shoes and it didn’t kill her.
As she had planned, Shirley went back to graduate school and became a licensed psychologist. It was at the outset of her career that she met and began dating a hugely successful investment banker. The attraction was strong and Shirley was falling in love, but she felt he was pressuring her to give up her independence, move in, and get engaged. In time, his sense of humor, intelligence, and “old-fashioned” courting style—flowers, candlelight dinners, Mediterranean cruises—won her over. Eventually she agreed, and they set up a household together with her daughter.
With the added stress of a new career, the pressing needs of a preteen daughter, and the heavy social demands of her fiancé weighing on her, Shirley found herself becoming forgetful for the first time in her life. Little details began falling through the cracks and she actually mixed up a patient’s appointment and missed one of her kid’s sports events. When her daughter started making jokes about “Mommy losing her memory,” Shirley decided to do something about improving her memory and reducing her stress. She came to UCLA and volunteered for our Fourteen-Day Healthy Longevity Study.
After just two weeks on the program, her memory scores improved significantly, she lost three pounds without trying, and felt more relaxed and better able to deal with both her job and her responsibilities at home. Shirley was able to comfort herself with her old, familiar coping styles, and she was happy. So were the shoe departments at Saks and Neiman Marcus.
Shirley’s experience was similar to that of many other subjects in the study for whom these essential longevity strategies improved memory and reduced stress, as well as lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Scientific evidence indicates that adopting these lifestyle strategies not only lowers the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, but actually increases life expectancy—making us live longer—while adding to the quality of those years.
Quality Longevity for the Long Haul
Large-scale, longitudinal aging studies, including the MacArthur Study of Successful Aging, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, the Leisure World Cohort Study, and many others, have yielded scientific findings that add to the foundation of The Longevity Bible’s strategies. The MacArthur Study found that staying connected through social relationships as we get older is linked to longer and better living. A healthy emotional life—founded on intimacy and strong relationships—is associated with a more positive mental state as well as improved physical health and function. Another key finding is that it’s almost never too late (or too early) to make healthy lifestyle choices and instigate changes to achieve quality longevity.
Whether we are approaching our forties, fifties, sixties, or more, we all face the challenges and rewards of aging. Studies on successful aging have shown that only one third of what predicts how well we age is controlled by genetics. Approximately two thirds is based on our personal lifestyle choices and, therefore, under our own control.
As we learn about the Eight Essentials, we will see how our psychologist, Shirley, and several others tackle the bumps and hurdles that so many of us face as we get older. We will learn how to apply the Eight Essentials, quickly and easily, and begin living a quality longevity lifestyle. If it’s true that we’re only as young as we feel, then it’s time to start feeling, looking, and acting younger today.
The Eight Essentials
Sharpen Your Mind
Memory is the mother of all wisdom.
The newspaper’s daily crossword puzzle had long been the high point of Michele R.’s morning routine. Monday’s easy puzzle she could do quickly, and in pen. But as the clues got harder throughout the rest of the week, she felt challenged enough to get that “puzzler’s high” whenever she could solve them all and complete the puzzle. That all changed when Michele started working the newspaper’s new brainteaser—Sudoku. There was nothing easy about it. How could arranging a bunch of numbers in a grid possibly hold her attention for more than a few minutes? Words were so much more interesting than numbers, and she had always been lousy at math.
It only took a week for Michele to get hooked on the new puzzle, as she began to pick up its patterns and logical challenges. She grabbed for the entertainment section of the newspaper before anyone could get near it—Sudoku had become Michele’s new obsession. But instead of being fun and challenging like the crossword, it was often frustrating and sometimes enraging. She absolutely couldn’t start her day off right if she failed to solve that morning’s Sudoku. Her kids joked that if Michele kept up this fixation with the puzzle, she might have to join a Sudoku Anonymous group to kick the habit.
Soon Michele’s husband began doing Sudokus as well. They would copy the one in the morning paper and race each other to see who could finish it first. As Michele got better at Sudoku, she began to get that puzzler’s high back, and the added excitement of beating her husband every morning made it all the more fun.
Most people enjoy mentally challenging puzzles, especially when they are able to solve them. As Michele did, it’s good to find mental challenges and leisure activities that are fun and engaging, but not ones that are so tough that we strain, rather than train the brain. Staying mentally active sharpens the mind, improves memory, and protects the brain from future decline. This first Essential is the key to following all the Essentials, which empowers us to take control of how we age.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that participating in leisure activities, such as playing board games, reading books, or doing crossword puzzles, cuts the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by nearly a third. When scientists study animals raised in mentally stimulating cages—those with lots of toys, mazes, and other distractions—the animals not only have an easier time remembering how to navigate their mazes, but their brains’ memory centers are much larger than those of animals brought up in standard-issue cages.
Several large-scale studies have found that people who engage in mentally stimulating leisure activities, along with other quality longevity strategies, not only feel happier and function better, but also tend to live longer. The most well-known longitudinal investigation of healthy aging, the MacArthur Study, found that people who remained mentally active—doing puzzles, reading books, playing cards or other games—had better quality of life and longer life expectancy than those who had less mental stimulation.
When scientists compare college-educated volunteers with those who have not attended college, they consistently find a lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease among the more educated study volunteers. A recent brain imaging study found that with more years of education, we are better able to use the front part of the brain to augment mental prowess. This is a good argument for continuing education throughout our lifetimes.
The Sharper Mind
According to the scientific evidence, whenever we push ourselves to solve problems in a new way, we may be strengthening the connections between our brain cells. Each brain cell has dendrites. These minute extensions—similar to branches of a tree—pass information along from brain cell to brain cell. Without use, our dendrites can atrophy or shrink; but when we exercise them in new and creative ways, their connections remain active, passing new information along. Basically, any conscious effort to exercise your brain can potentially create new brain cell connections. And, remarkably, new dendrites can still be created even if old ones have already died.
Over the years, we learn more complex mental skills that eventually become automatic, so that our minds can perform certain mental tasks with less effort. As we gain experience, our minds become able to automatically take in the big picture without having to focus on every little detail. Take a look at the following paragraph:
Dont alwyas blveiee what yor’ue rdanieg becusae the hmuan mnid has phaoenmneal pweor. Aoccdrnig to uinervtisy rsceearchers, it deosn’t mttaer inwaht odrer the ltteers in a wrod are plcead. Waht is improtnat is taht the frist and lsat letetrs rae in the corerct pclae.
You probably understood the message, yet the delivery was a mess. Our minds have learned to automatically perceive the meaning of something, even if details are missing or wrong. Systematic studies have found that older, healthy people with more experience are better and quicker at assessing an overall scene or picking out a face in a crowd than younger people, who tend to focus on details.
We can fine-tune these skills at any age with mental exercise. To make the most of our brain power and optimize mental sharpness, it is helpful to keep in mind what I call the P’s and Q’s for Sharpening the Mind: Presence, Persevere, Quality, and Question.
Presence. Staying focused on the present makes us more efficient in any given mental task. What is key to remaining present and on task is not just the ability to take in what’s going on around us, but also being able to shut out what’s not important.
Persevere. Sticking with a specific mental task builds learning and memory skills. You may start piano lessons today, but unless you continue to practice over the following weeks and months, you won’t gain the mental benefits or the enjoyment of mastering the instrument. With perseverance, your memory skills will improve and you’ll enjoy heightened confidence in your cognitive abilities.
Quality. When our minds focus on the qualities, details, and meanings of new information, we retain it longer and have a greater sense of control. This control allows us to organize the information and improves our learning abilities. If our hobbies and leisure activities have qualities that we value, they become more fun and fulfilling. Many people like to get involved in competitions, keeping a prize they value in mind during their activity. This may explain why competitive sports are so exciting for both the participants and the fans.
Question. Curiosity allows us to expand our mental horizons. Reading stimulating books and magazines, exploring unfamiliar places and hobbies, and continually probing and asking questions will keep our mental skills intact.
Applying the P’s and Q’s not only helps keep our mental lives active, but it allows us to develop resilience, the ability to recover from negative experiences. When we take chances and reasonable risks, explore new opportunities, and learn new skills, we also become better at bouncing back if we should fail in an endeavor. Being able to set and achieve new goals leads to greater self-confidence, personal strength, and a positive outlook (see Essential 2).
Risk-taking and thrill-seeking taken to the extreme are behaviors typical of adolescence, and with maturity most people learn to avoid dangerous activities, thus lengthening their life expectancy. The key is to find a balance—a way to pursue novel experiences that expand the mind without going overboard. The following are a few activities to consider for keeping mentally sharp over the years.
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2006
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- Hachette Books