By KIMBERLEY MCGEE
VIEW ON HEALTH
Ozzie Pualte credits his active lifestyle, with a Saturday tennis game, and lifelong Mediterranean diet as the key to his longevity.
“I eat garlic and salads every day and have fish on Fridays,” the 100-year-old retired businessman said. “My mother lived to 103, and I don’t plan on changing what’s worked since I was a baby anytime soon.”
He’s jetted around the world in his life and seen many sunsets in far off places, but it’s his daily home life, a regimen of morning exercise and good-for-you food, that he credits with giving him the ability to get this far.
It’s a simple recipe for a long life that numerous studies back: the key to living longer lies in what you eat, what you don’t and a healthy dose of daily exercise.
May is Older Americans Month and the United States is a world leader in those who live to 100, with an estimated 72,000 Americans clocking in at or over the century mark, according to The Centenarian website. At that rate, by 2050 there could be more than one million over age 100 living well in the United States.
A British study following 5,000 men and women over two decades showed that those who followed the four basic rules of a good diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, exercising two or more hours a day and staying away from bad habits such as smoking and drinking lived longer than their counterparts.
According to a recent study from Danish researchers, those born to wealthy countries have increased their life expectancy by 30 years in the last 100, meaning we’re living three decades longer on average than our great-grandparents.
So if Americans have the means, why does it seem so difficult to follow the rules?
Carlos Fonte, M.D., cardiologist with Sunrise Hospital, urges a good diet paired with a solid exercise plan, particularly if your genes present significant health obstacles such as cancer or heart disease.
“Besides being lucky and not getting hit by a bus, you are what you eat,” he said. “If you eat nothing but meat and potatoes, which is what this country thrives on, you won’t have a healthy heart.”
But by eating healthy, what exactly does that do to increase life expectancy?
“By a good diet, we are trying to stabilize arteries,” he said. “If you get your cholesterol down, your blood pressure, you decrease the time bombs and free radicals in your blood that can lead to cancer. Then you have a much better chance of living longer.”
Of course you can’t change who your mom and dad are.
“Your genetics play an important role, but you don’t have to do what mom and dad did and you can still have a healthier, longer life even with (bad genes),” he said.
Concentrate on what you should do and eat, he advises, rather than what you should not.
“Of course, do not smoke,” Fonte wearily warned. “We used to say don’t eat white foods and you could live to be 100. What we’re saying is don’t eat sugar and processed breads, stay away from the delicious stuff.”
Try to eat foods that are considered healthy for longevity, such as apples, pears, citrus fruits, bananas even, lettuce, any roughage, carrots, root vegetables, beans and peas. Do skim milk or .5 percent or 1 percent, but try to stay away from many forms of fat whenever you can.
He also urges Americans to rediscover fish as a diet staple at least three times a week, such as salmon or tuna, “anything but shell fish,” he said, which is high in cholesterol.
“What you don’t want to eat are meats, bacon, things with blood, and of course all the fried stuff,” he said.
Start out the day with a big, red grapefruit and an egg white omelet for protein and you’ve set a good foundation for the day.
Pair a good, solid diet filled with veggies and fruits as the main ingredients with an exercise plan you can realistically stick with and you have a better chance of adding at least a decade to your life span.
“Honestly exercise is the best because you have to rev up the metabolism,” he said. “It will make you not only feel stronger, but want to make better (food) choices.”
By improving your cardiovascular status, you help your blood pressure and glucose levels stay at a low number that you and your doctor can be proud of.
For a good example of diet, exercise and a whole life approach, look to leaders in living to 100, said Lorna DunnCrab, clinical nutrition manager for Sunrise Hospital. A significant study of a group of centenarians on an island halfway around the world showed diet paired with mental and physical exercise daily was a safe bet in getting to the age of 100. “The Okinawa Program” is a bestselling book based on the 25-year Okinawa Centenarian Study by Drs. Bradley J. Willcox, M.D., M.S., Craig Willcox, Ph.D., M.H.Sc. and Makato Suzuki, M.D., Ph.D. The Okinawa Program followed 33 people who were 100 years old on the island
They looked at specific areas, such as diet, physical and mental exercise, stress reducing habits such as tai chi and other spiritual outlets and community support.
The Okinawans eat a lower calorie, high-plant based diet with daily exercise including anaerobic, aerobic and flexibility, DunnCrab, who lived in Okinawa for three years in the ’80s said. They tend to eat low fat, high vegetable and fruit diets daily that are packed with good things such as fiber and flavonoids, antioxidants linked to lower rates of cancer, and they stay away from salt.
“They are high vegetable eaters,” she said. For instance the American serving size of vegetables is 1/2 cup and we eat 4-9 servings daily, whereas Okinawans eat 9-17 servings of vegetables every day. They tend to start their vegetable intake with their morning meal, usually a soup or hot broth with vegetables, topping off their morning eggs with mustard greens, carrots, beets or parsnips.
From this they get a higher vitamin and fiber content.
They also eat between 7 and 13 servings of whole grains, not the polished rice Western culture consumes. They eat buckwheat, or soba, noodles in vegetables soups and dishes with meat being one of the rarer forms of protein they use. Instead, tofu and other calcium-rich proteins are a base for main dishes.
Flavanoids such as legumes, broccoli and tea are eaten daily. Those counterparts in the U.S. diet would be flaxseed and soy products such as edamame and soy milk. In fact, the Okinawans eat more soy than any other culture around the world, between 60-120 g a day. Americans include very little if any soy in their daily diet.
They tend to stay away from carbonated drinks or sweetened beverages.
“They drink fresh water and also do tea, although there’s no place in the world you can get away from Coca Cola,” she said.
They eat a little fish every day, but their meat servings per week are equal to the amount Americans eat in one day.
Finally, they drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all.
Often in Western culture, aging is viewed as negative and something to hold back rather than accept and move through. The University of Texas Medical School, Division of Palliative Medicine notes the Top10 challenges people face while aging that can undermine their chances of gaining centenarian status: functional decline, depression, disease, abuse and neglect, financial exploitation, caregiver burnout, a negative approach to the natural cycle of death and dying in friends and family, ignorance of medications or polypharmacy, falls and dementia.
Americans, DunnCrab said, tend to look outside the body for ways to appear younger, rather than what they can do for their insides both physically and spiritually
“We want to have this youthful age thing, but we look to Botox and things to get us there,” she said.
While Americans may look outside their bodies for the secret of youth, studies continually show it’s what you are putting inside your body and how you are handling life’s stresses that create the building blocks to a longer life.
“That should be what our objective (is),” DunnCrab said. “Not to live to 100 but the quality of life when we get there.”