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Life Skills for Your LifeSpan: Longevity: Is it in you?

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My mother-in-law lived to be 99 and 3/4, just shy of 100 and my grandmother lived to be in her 100s. I’ve always wondered, will I get to live that long and do I want to?

My Ponce de Leon fountain of youth is still on my suitcase list, but regardless of your fountain of youth search, what does give you longevity?

How about a sunny disposition? Be positive! An upbeat personality won’t help you in the long-life and a Longevity Project study of 1,500 over 80 years found that the cheery, happy folks actually lived shorter lives. The persistent and prudent types lived the longest and the lighthearted ones, tended to take more risks with their health as they aged, say Kate Rockwood, prevention contributor.

FACTS FOR FAMILIES: How to keep resilient as you age

It’s not to say to be dour to add a few more years to your life because it is found that laughter is good medicine with findings of lower heart disease and stroke rates. Naturally, it’s all in a good balance.

Are you putting in an 80 hour week? Hard workers have a 20-30% lower risk of early death according to the Longevity Project study. If your job causes you stress that you take home, that not so good, but the social engagement and mental brain use can have benefits that outweigh the hours.

Those who work just one year longer before retirement were found to have an 11% lower risk of dying during the 18-year study period. Although the pay was good, it was more the sense of purpose and having accountability that extends longevity, says Psychological Science. But you can still find purpose and accountability without working from volunteering or belonging to a club that meets regularly.

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“It’s about the importance of community and being in service to others,’ says Catherine Johnson, M.D., founder and medical director of Precision Medical Care.

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If my dad died young, will I? Genetics account for a small part of longevity. Yes, your DNA does have a say if you have a parent that lived past 70 with your chances going up. Here’s your caveat, what’s your lifestyle habits, did/do you smoke, what’s your environment?

These and other variables do impact your DNA, says Dr. Johnson. Researchers study a group of 123,000 people and found 5 lifestyle habits that mattered. In particular – maintaining a healthy weight, never smoking, exercising, healthy eating and drinking in moderation greatly increased life expectancy at 50.

Additionally, David Fein, M.D., medical director of the Princeton Longevity Center found that quality healthcare, clean air and water helped too. If you still want more information about your family history and risk, make use of health screenings.

Is aging the worst thing that can happen to you? Granted, some aspects of aging are not fun including your lack of climbing trees and maybe a flappy arm, but people who embrace their life live 7.5 years longer on average than those who dread aging. This could be part of the bleaker outlook on getting old and not being proactive about health care and addressing issues.

Dr. Johnson believes that we can manage how our bodies age by eating less sugar, exercising more, spending more time outside, managing stress and eating foods in omega-3 fatty acids which all help with lowering inflammation.

Is it too late to stop smoking or tanning or being comfy in my lounger?

Fact: No. Dr. Johnson states again that it’s never too late to find ways to improve your health, but you cannot erase damage done by history of unhealthy habits. Always start slow and consult with your physician(s) first. Take small steps, literally, to find a path of a healthier life you have.

Peace Meals, sponsored by Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center, are served Monday through Friday at a suggested donation of $3.50. To register, reserve a lunch or learn more, call 217-345-1800.

Laura A Severson is LSVP Coordinator at the LifeSpan Center in Charleston


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