If you ask what is the single more important key to longevity, I would say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension. And if you didn’t ask me, I’d still have to say it. – George Burns
My mother, Rose Sottile, who was born in New York City in 1920, lived to be two months short of her 100th birthday. Her grandfather, Angelo Sottile, who was born in Castelbuono, Sicily, in 1858, immigrated to New York City before 1900 and eventually returned to Castelbuono, where he died at the age of 98. We might assume their longevity was a genetic inheritance. But was it? What was the secret to their longevity?
Dan Buettner and National Geographic visited 5 different places in the world, now called the
Blue Zones, known for their centenarians. What did they learn?
Myth: If you try really hard you can live to be 100.
We are not programmed for longevity; we are programmed for procreative success. You have to have lived a very good lifestyle and won the genetic lottery.
Myth: Treatments exist that can stop us from aging.
Our capacity for live is about 90 years for men, and somewhat longer for women. But our life expectancy is 78 years of age in the United States. That means we’re leaving 12 years on the table. Look at the cultures around the world where people are living to be 100. The video link is about 20 minutes long, but well worth watching: How to live to be 100+ – Dan Buettner – YouTube
However, a recent study published in GeroScience July 2023, “The multifaceted benefits of walking for healthy aging: from Blue Zone to molecular mechanics,” discusses the active and physical lifestyles of the people in these Blue Zones, and in particular walking, which is an integral part of their daily lives. Walking can decrease the risk or severity of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, Type 2 Diabetes, cognitive impairment and dementia, as well as improve well-being, sleep, and longevity. Exercise also promotes endothelial health.
Current guidelines suggest that we should walk briskly for 30-minute intervals at least 5 days per week. Components of physical activity include frequency, duration, and intensity: all are required to reap the benefits. “Steps per day” that are executed at a speed of 40 per minute are considered light; 100 per minute are considered a moderate brisk walk.
What about the number of steps taken? “Daily steps and all-cause mortality: a meta-analysis of 15 international cohorts,” published in the Lancet (2022), reports that taking more steps per day was associated with a progressively lower risk of all-cause mortality, up to a level that varied by age. Wearable devices, such as Fitbits and watches, make it easy track step counts and other metrics. Findings from large prospective studies have shown mortality risk levels off for older women (aged ≥62 years) at 7500 steps per day and among a nationally representative sample of US and Norwegian adults (aged ≥40 years) at approximately 8000–12,000 steps per day.
Our “biological clocks” are ticking. An article published in Scientific American (May 2021), “Humans Could Live up to 150 Years New Research Suggests,” informs us that the “pace of aging,” which sets the limits on our individual lifespans, can be assessed from the daily number of steps taken as well as assessed changes in blood cell counts.
Our bodies’ capacity to restore equilibrium, or homeostasis, to structural and metabolic systems fades over time, even in a stressor-free environment. Biological estimators of age reflect age-related variations in blood markers, DNA-methylation states, or patterns of locomotor activity. By studying CBC (complete blood counts) measurements, researchers were able to fix on a critical point of 120-150 years corresponding to a complete loss of resilience: “Longitudinal analysis of blood markers reveals progressive loss of resilience and predictors of human lifespan limit.” Read the article in Nature Communications (2021).
A long lifespan is not in itself the goal: quality matters. How do we extend our health spans and intercept the loss of resilience? Researcher Peter Fedichev says, “Measuring something is the first step before producing an intervention.” How should we measure? We can start with our daily steps and our daily pace. Start wherever you are – and add incrementally as you can to reach the number of steps, the brisk pace, and the recommended 150 minutes per week. Always remember to speak with your physician before embarking on a new exercise program. We can further investigate and test our “epigenetic clocks” to learn more about our biological versus chronological age, as discussed in “Biological Age Predictors,” in The Lancet (2017).
Meanwhile, I wish us all a long and purposeful life, and close with an Italian birthday toast…. A cent’anni! To 100 years!
♥ Susan L. Ward
Integrative Nutrition Health Coach