I am participating in a chapter by chapter discussion of Dr. Robert Butler's Book The Longevity Prescription on Ronni Bennett's Blog Time Goes By. The Longevity Prescription has a chapter devoted to each of Dr Butler's nine longevity prescriptions. I discussed the introduction in my last blog post but I think I will put my reactions to each chapter in this one blog post, adding to it as I read.
In the introduction to The Longevity Prescription Butler quotes Jonathan Swift, "Every man desires to live long; but no man would be old." Butler says that the aim of his book is to "offer the best strategies to live long and to live well." I want to live a long life but I also wan to be healthy and vital for as long as possible.
Prescription I – Maintain Mental Vitality
The first encouraging thing I learned in is that although mental decline is most people's biggest fear it may not happen as much as we think.
"A number of studies have demonstrated that this decline is neither inevitable nor as severe as many people think. About 80 percent of older people report memory loss – but testing has found that such subjective reports are overstated. It appears that our fear of a fading memory exaggerates real but minor memory loss"
For me maintaining mental vitality is the most important aspect of living not just a long life but a long life lived well. I was very encouraged to learn that the idea of use it or lose applies to the brain too.
"The message is clear: You can take responsibility for keeping your brain in optimal condition."
"Momentum is gathering behind the notion that the use-it-or-lose-it rule applies to the brain just as it does to the musculoskeletal system."
I was discussing this with Duke and some friends last night and they rightly pointed out that we know of several people who did all the right things to maintain mental vitality but they still succumbed to Alzheimer's .
"This ailment has become the fear of many aging people, not least because of its prevalence: Roughly one in twenty Americans over sixty-five is affected, and the number rises to more like one in three after age eighty."
Butler says that although there are promising avenues of research into treatment and avoidance of Alzheimer's.
"However, living a healthy lifestyle is the best we can do at present to decrease our odds of getting Alzheimer’s.
My take away from reading Prescription I is that I can look at many of my activities like learning Spanish, writing this blog, and creating a podcast as ""Cognitive Calisthenics to exercise the reserve
capacity of my brain and its ability to integrate newly acquired knowledge".
I also need to think about regularly connecting with other people to take me out of old patterns. Apparently this may even promote brain growth. It is easy to settle into the familiar and regular but I think I will make this more of conscious goal in the future.
Ronni Bennett who I mentioned above is having a meet up her blogging community on October 9 in Portland and Duke and I are planning to go. I suspect that in general traveling is a good way to get out of my old patterns and meet new people.
Prescription II – Nurture your Relationships
I recently overheard a conversation at the senior living facility where my Father lives about how certain people weren't getting enough interaction with other people. I don't think my Dad would mind me saying he has never been a joiner. He can be a very gregarious person but he really dislikes socializing being forced on him. I can appreciate this and would never want to be forced to socialize.
On the other hand making social interaction an important part of my life makes sense to me .I am fairly introverted but I do have a wonderful husband and some really wonderful friends. Butler says:
"In adults, it is much the same: To thrive throughout life, we benefit from attachments, whether you call it love, friendship, empathy, or bonding. Those connections can add great richness."
He also says:
"As a physician, I find it gratifying—and a little surprising—that it is a statistical fact that a good marriage at age fifty is a better predictor of good health at age eighty"
I really appreciate how precious my wonderful marriage is on many levels.There can be no doubt it is good for my health.
I also know how important my friends are. Although I already knew it the importance of nurturing my current friendship and of making new friends is always something that it is good to be reminded of.
Prescription III – Seek Essential Sleep
While it is intuitively obvious that getting enough sleep is a good idea. I did not realize how important it is for good health. To quote Dr Butler "Poor sleeping habits have been linked to the genesis of disease."
Interestingly enough Butler also says "The old Dogma that poor sleep is an inevitable part of aging is simply not true: Age in itself is not a predictor of insomnia".
I am very lucky in that I have never had problems sleeping and I can pretty much correlate my occasional bad nights sleep with drinking.
Prescription IV – Set Stress Aside
As with getting enough sleep, I think it is obvious that stress is bad for one's health and even impacts one's ability to think clearly.
Being a worrier tends to run in my family but I think I am pretty good at defusing stress. There is no doubt that retiring has helped a a lot. Sometimes I do have to remind myself that I don't need to try to make everyone happy.
One thing that Dr Butler discussed in this chapter was the restorative effect of contact with the natural world. I have often said that nature is good for the soul. I just feel better when I get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of my surroundings. I was really please to see this positive influence discussed.
Another suggestion that Dr Butler had was to "Keep flowers around". He says that "A study at Kansas State University gave women a five minute typing assignment; researchers found that those who worked with a bouquet of flowers at hand outperformed those with no flowers." I love flowers but I don't usually have them at home. I'm going to add that to my short list of things to change
One of the commenters on Ronni's post about this chapter of the Longevity Prescription mentioned "escape-reading" as a stress relieving strategy. It reminded me of how helpful reading has been at very high stress times in my life. It is amazing to me how much less reading I do now that my life is less stressful.
Prescription V – Connect with your Community
In Prescription II: Nurture Your Relationships Butler talked about our closest relationships like family and dear friends. In this chapter he discuss what he describes as "that larger sense of connectedness we get from relationships that are more distant."
I don't think I have ever really separated the two but I find this an interesting way to think about connections. Butler calls it a connection with life or a connection with the world.
Butler also says that "having a purpose in life is in itself life-giving. He talks about people who find retirement depressing. " His strategies to avoid this include a second career of volunteering, neither of which I want to do right now.
Butler does acknowledge "Not that traditional retirement is not the right model for many people. For people who are able to do what they genuinely enjoy doing on their terms, retirement can make them happy and occupied. There is nothing politically incorrect about saying Ï'm retired and having a ball." On the whole that's me. Although I do think that I should perhaps work more on this blog. I seem to have been letting it falter lately and I have been meaning to write a post about why I blog to help me think about it.
Butler also talks about the "Society of cyberspace"" . This is discussed at length by Ronnie Bennett in her Time Goes By Blog and in the comments on the post about this chapter. It is pretty amazing what a vibrant community Ronni has built at Time Goes By.
"Ronni says "Alone does not necessarily mean lonely and the degree to which we need others varies widely."I think that is very true.
This chapter has definitely given me something to think about.
Prescription VI – Live the Active Life
Prescription VII – Eat Your Way to Health
Prescription VIII – Practice Prevention
Prescription IX – Stay with the Strategy
As I started writing my reactions to each of Dr Butler's prescription I came up with the idea to create a short list of reminders to carry with me in my purse and on my iPod. Here is my list of resolutions so far. I'll add to it as I go along.
- Stimulate my brain
- Seek out new experiences
- make healthy life style choices – fruits and vegetables, exercise, no extra weight, limited alcohol
- nurture my friendships
- make new friends
- Keep flowers around