The secret to a long and healthy life?

Is it possible to be healthy at 100?

The other day was my birthday.  I asked my wife who was born in the same year, “How old are we now?”

I asked because we try not to think of ourselves as a certain age and get bogged down with limiting predictions about getting older.

A few days later I read an article about finding the fountain of youth which had quotes from the great Hall-of-Fame baseball pitcher, Satchel Paige.  He asked, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”  Hmm…I’m still pondering that one.

And in his inimitable, lite-yet-deep way, he gives us this wisdom:  “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”

September is Healthy Aging Month, and I’ve been thinking about what’s needed to age healthily.  It seems that expectations for how healthy or active we will be at certain ages keep evolving as people live longer.  Our perspectives keep shifting.

For Example, currently, there are more than 340,000 people in the world who are at least 100 years old.  A report from 2009 says that by 2050 that number will explode to 6 million!  Centenarians are the fastest growing population demographic.

What does this do to classic definitions of “youth”, “prime”, “middle-age” or “old-age”?  If you’re going to live to say, 105, then how old really is 80?  And is it possible to expect to be healthier and more active for much longer?  And what does it take?

Here’s one approach.  The University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing has an upcoming lecture by Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., called, “The Science of Positivity.”  Dr. Fredrickson is Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab.

The introduction to her talk says that she “…will share evidence for the many effects of positive emotions, both in the moment and over time. Our science to date tells us that genuine positive emotions may in fact be the single most important active ingredient in this recipe for flourishing. These effects trigger upward spirals toward a healthier, more vibrant, and flourishing life.”

So it sounds like one way to be healthy in our 9th, 10th, and even 11th decades is by having positive thoughts and feelings.

Recently I watched an inspiring video of 108 year old Alice Herz Sommer who proves Dr. Fredrickson’s words.  She was in a Nazi concentration camp.  At age 83, she had cancer.  Today, she still lives alone and practices piano three hours a day in her London flat.  Each day she finds something to laugh about and sees everything as a present.  When asked her secret for longevity, Alice said, “I know about the bad, but I look at the good.”

I’ve noticed in my own experience how a happy mental state can affect my body.  I used to be a singer.  And if I was upset or fearful, the vocal mechanism would tend to get stiff and labored.  But when I was full of joy, I felt like I could sing anything with ease.  And I could – I could hit notes with freedom and power that were difficult or impossible in a negative mood.

And I’m learning that the best way to care for my bodily health as I get older is to take care of my thoughts and feelings – to choose to focus on the good and not the bad.  Sometimes it’s not an easy choice, but it’s always a choice.

And when I’m struggling to stay positive, I often turn to the Scriptures for support and inspiration.  I’ve also been greatly helped by the writings of a Nineteenth Century woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who lived to be 89 at a time when women’s life expectancy was around 50.

In her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, she says, “Hold thought steadfastly to the enduring, the good, and the true, and you will bring these into your experience proportionably to their occupancy of your thoughts.”

Joel Magnes blogs on spirituality and health and is a Christian Science practitioner. He lives in Edina right on the Richfield border with his wife, Brenda, a canine behaviorist (think dog whisperer). They have a charming Havanese dog, Rafi, and a chubby orange tabby cat, Wally. You can see more on his website, called "HealthThoughts."

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