Originally created 02/16/99

Age old questions



Dear Readers: Just as Ponce de Leon searched for the missing Fountain of Youth, we all want to find a magical way to live longer, healthier lives. While we all know there is no real Fountain of Youth, there are ways to improve the quality -- and maybe even quantity -- of our years.

Those born at the turn of the 20th century were expected to live 47 years, compared to today's 76 years! This change can be attributed to advances in medical technology as well as more information on how to make good health decisions.

Today, about 61,000 people are 100 or older. That number is expected to grow to 600,000 by 2050.

Just how long can we live? Researchers have documented a 141-year-old man in India this past year. Scientists estimate that the maximum life span for humans is approximately six times the time from birth to maturity. This formula would equal about 120 years. However, it will be many centuries until 120 is a realistic goal for most of the population.

More important than the number of years, however, is the quality of those years. When asked to what they attributed their long lives, those over 100 responded with: Staying active, limiting alcohol and sweets, and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

According to the Mayo Clinic, several key factors contribute to a long life.

First, get plenty of exercise. By keeping your body active, you are recharging it for many more years of service. Focus on a regular routine of whatever exercise interests you. Find a friend and walk, swim or bike together. You can even recruit your dog to be your exercise partner!

Eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight. Not only does excess weight affect the bones and joints, it also puts a great strain on the heart. By including fruits and vegetables in your daily diet, you will be giving your body the vitamins and minerals it needs.

It is also suggested that you exercise your brain by doing activities that you enjoy. Ask a friend to play cards. Join an art class. Do the daily crossword. Any of these activities (and many others) will help you keep those brain cells strong for years to come.

We are often the captains of our own destiny. The choices we make help shape how healthfully and long we will live. While many may say that our genetic makeup controls our destiny, science has proven that we can often overcome even the grimmest outlook by striving for good health. For example, those with a family history of diabetes or heart disease may be able to avoid these and other ailments by including a low-fat diet and regular exercise in their daily routines.

If you have a question or would like additional information, write to Shirley McIntosh, Resource Center on Aging, 2803 Wrightsboro Road, Suite 51, Augusta, GA 30909.