A recent study in the Journal Nature Genetics showed some people are genetically predisposed to age more rapidly than others. The authors proposed that certain age-associated diseases such as heart disease and certain types of cancers are more closely related to biological rather than chronological age. So can we take that to mean that if your recent ancestors lived to a ripe old age then you'd have a good chance of following in their foot steps, regardless of what your diet, lifestyle or activities levels may be?
Does that also mean that those whose parents or grandparents died early with certain genetically predisposing diseases are destined to the same fate? Are we merely a helpless, ticking biological bomb waiting to explode into our genetic destiny? I think not and hope not for all of our sakes. The good news is that there is plenty of evidence that shows the need for triggers to activate genetic expression--meaning if you avoid certain habits or substance you may very well keep you bad genes from showing up. Conversely, if you develop health-promoting habits like exercise and laughing daily, you may be able to keep your body humming for years to come.
Having personally interviewed and studied over one hundred centenarians of China and compared their family histories, I can say that nature and nurture play equally important roles in aging, and in many cases nurture actually played a more vital role. Some of the centenarians were peasants and laborers and were not well off in their lives and suffered from poor health early on. Often their parents or grandparents died young. Perhaps due to their disadvantaged youth they learned to care for themselves better. For example, many of them practiced tai chi--a slow, meditative exercise traditionally practiced in China to strengthen vitality and improve health. Others used Chinese herbs for health and longevity as part of their diet. Most of the centenarians were nonsmokers, and did not drink alcohol nor were they obese.
At the Tao of Wellness my associates and I have helped many patients design lifestyles that promote health, wellness and longevity. Here I list the top five activities we recommend to our patients culminated from my study of the centenarians of China.
Laugh out loud! We know from research that laughter and joy boost immune functions, especially the production of the natural killer cells that help protect the body from illness and cancer. Laughter also increases the release of endorphins, compounds that give you a sense of well-being, in your brain. Without a doubt, joyful people live longer and healthier lives.
Drink it up--tea, that is. Besides being anti-cancerous and cholesterol lowering, the antioxidant-rich tea leaves also protect your brain from free-radical damage, strengthen your bones against osteoporosis and according to studies published in the Journal of American Medical Association, lowers risks of death from all forms of cardiovascular diseases. So drink tea to your heart's content!
Unwind with meditation. Stress is the root cause of most of the diseases that shorten our life span. In our modern society stress will continue to increase - unless you find techniques to manage it. Meditation is the best way to release tension and revitalize your being. It also quiets your mind, lowers your stress hormones, and teaches self-discipline, which is a necessary attribute to achieving your health and longevity goals.
Try this simple meditation: Sit comfortably on a chair or the floor. Breathe naturally and close your eyes. Each time a thought appears, put it inside a balloon and let it fly up into the sky and disappear. Do this until the thoughts are exhausted. After a bit, your body will feel very light, and your mind will become still. The first few times it may take a while, but it will get easier and faster with practice. Check out my easy-to-learn Stress Release Meditation CD.
Activate your circulation with massage. Many of our patients will tell you that they cannot live without massage. Those who get regular bodywork will probably agree. It's not that you can't get by without it but because countless studies have shown benefits of massage to include relieve pain and stiffness, boost immunity, reduce anxiety and depression, lower stress and blood pressure, and increase circulation that you wouldn't want to skip out on a good thing.
Many styles of massage exist, some for feel-good while others are more therapeutic. Tuina is a medical massage within Chinese medicine that is offered as a treatment modality for many conditions ranging from pain relief and fertility enhancement to lymphatic activation and detoxification. Experience it for yourself and get your circulation moving. Find a tuina practitioner.
Climb the stairs instead of using elevator. The health benefits of a daily exercise program cannot be stressed enough. Regular exercise can help promote physiological well-being, strengthen the immune system, maintain joint mobility, increase energy - and the list goes on. Look for opportunities all through your day to work in physical activity. Power-walk, run, or ride your bike instead of driving. Begin a daily tai chi practice at your local gym or health club or learn from my instructional DVD at home.
These healthy lifelong habits are adapted straight from the time-tested traditions practiced by centenarians all around the world, and I can say with certainty that they will transform and rejuvenate you!