You’re eating right, exercising and have given up unhealthy vices such as smoking and excessive drinking. Your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived long, full lives. So good habits and genes are all you need to live longer, right? Wrong.
According to the Danish twin studies, your DNA may only be 15 to 30 percent responsible in determining how long you live. Scientists studied identical twins who had been raised separately and lived different lifestyles. They made the assumption that if genes were a factor in longevity, a set of twins would live to approximately the same age. But that wasn’t the case at all. Results showed a dramatic difference in lifespan between siblings, proving that genes don’t play as significant a role as we once assumed.
In Okinawa, Japan, where the average life expectancy is 82, they share a sense of ikigai, which means “a reason for being.” Of course, they also eat a primarily plant-based diet and stay active – both well-known keys to longevity. But healthy living alone may not help you live longer. It’s possible that a healthy dose of purpose and self-determination could have a significant influence on your longevity. Studies of people 65 to 92 years old performed by gerontologist Robert N. Butler supports this claim. Those in the group who had defined goals lived longer and had sharper minds.
So if you’re taking care of your physical being, what else can you do to boost your chances of living to 100? Consider these steps to finding your own ikigai.
Your methods for coping with stress can affect your life span. Many interviews and studies show that centenarians are great at handling stress. They usually don’t focus on misfortune or obstacles, but rather stay positive. Find a way to keep your stress levels down, and you’ll increase your chances of longevity.
Pursuing your passions may be one of the keys to reaching 100. Dedicate your time to your favorite hobby. Find others in your area who share the same interests to keep you motivated. Or are your goals loftier than that? Changing careers isn’t easy, but if opportunity allows, you might want to give it some thought. Get creative and research the possibility of pursuing your dream. You might find it easier than you thought.
Travel to places you’ve never been. Study a new language. Read books on a topic you know nothing about. Just because your school days are over doesn’t mean learning has to stop. Consider famous centenarian Grandma Moses who learned to paint in her 70s. Many community colleges offer continuing education courses on anything from painting to Tai Chi. You might discover a new passion in the process.
Most centenarians credit their long, happy lives to their faith. According to a 1999 study in Demography, Caucasian Americans who attended church lived up to seven years longer than non-churchgoers, while African-American parishioners lived up to 14 years longer. Just ask 112-year-old Nyleptha Roberts, a resident at Life Care Center of Sparta, Tenn., who claims her secret to longevity is “a good Christian life.”
No, we aren’t talking about the latest Internet site to help you keep in touch with friends. We’re talking about actual human interaction with the people you care about. Talking to friends and family every day can reduce depression, which is common among the elderly. Okinawans cherish their moais, a group of close friends who commit to support each other no matter what.
Giving is just as rewarding as receiving, sometimes even more so. Volunteering can not only help you feel great, but it can be an avenue for you to make new friends and contribute to your “reason for being.”
There are countless ways to live with purpose. For you, it may be as exciting as pursuing your lifelong dreams, or as simple as appreciating the life you have now. Regardless, follow the example set by our beloved centenarians and live the life you have to the fullest, enjoying each milestone along the way. And don’t forget to eat your fruits and veggies too.
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