Wellness And Aging Well: Conversation With Donald Ardell

Don Ardell - Exuberance is part of REAL Wellness!

Don Ardell is truly one of the founders of the wellness movement that we can identify as getting in gear in the late 1970’s. His foundational book “High-Level Wellness: An Alternative to Doctors, Drugs and Disease” was ground-breaking and he has since contributed more wisdom through authoring numerous books, being a true ambassador for wellness worldwide, and importantly reminding us that “Wellness is too important to be presented grimly!” One of his latest books looks at the very topic we’ve been exploring on this blog – Aging and doing it Well! Aging Beyond Belief: 69 Tips for REAL Wellness http://www.wholeperson.com/x-selfhelp/aging.html
In it, Don shows us how to “Age under the influence – of a wellness lifestyle.”

Don sent the message below to me just before he took off for the ITU Sprint Triathlon World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. There Don took his Fourth World Champion Medal in his 70-74 age group! http://pressbox.teamusa.org/Pages/TRIATHLON–U-S–Triathletes-Capture-Seven-Titles–21-Medals-at-Worlds.aspx
So! The man knows a thing or two about aging well!
Here’s his thoughts, spread over a couple of posts, and later, my reply.


You asked me to keep the chatter going on this aging thread, so I’ll offer a commentary on a recent book about places (besides Stevens Point, WI) where high percentages of people enjoy remarkably long, high quality lives. Someone named Dan Buettner, an explorer with National Geographic who has traveled widely studying longevity, wrote about what he calls “Blue Zones.” In his new book, “The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest” (http://www.bluezones.com) , he addresses some of the themes mentioned by you and Sandy. Since I expect you both to be the first centenarians to be speakers at the NWC, you might find his comments on such folks of interest.

Mr. Buettner is not the first and won’t be the last to visit, observe, analyze and report on health habits of centenarians in remote, little understood places off the beaten paths we associate with civilization. In a recent interview on ABC News with the always annoying Diane Sawyer, Buettner condensed his newest aging discoveries into a short but interesting interview segment. Here is the bottom line, based on the qualities he reported to Ms. Sawyer: Centenarians (at least those in Icaria, a lovely Greek Island) have positive attitudes, a sensible diet and look after themselves. Surprise! In Icaria, they also have a special fondness for a local honey and a certain tea. They love walking and they eat a lot of nuts – and veggies, too. They soak in hot springs and hang out mostly with other thin, fit and upbeat people. like themselves.

Nothing was said about religiosity, yogurt or alcohol (though there might be something about such things in the book). The author claims genetics account for only 20 percent of longevity, at least in Icaria. (University of Georgia gerontologist Leonard Poon, in an essay on centenarians, claims 30 percent is due to heredity – see How to Live Beyond 100, World Future Society, November-December 2008 Vol. 42, No. 6.) Whether 20 or 30 percent, the largest factor by far, all agree, is lifestyle.

Let’s personalize this aging business – particularly the centenarian issue. What age might YOU attain before the final curtain call? On a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being quite confident of reaching the fabled mark), where would you put your prospects of living to 100 years or more?

Your chances are probably better than you think.

There are about 50,000 American centenarians around now. Any idea how many there were a century ago? Nearly none! What about the NEXT century at this time? What numbers can we expect by that time, assuming no epochal catastrophes? Who knows? Who could venture a credible guess? However – this may surprise you: Some experts predict there will be 800,000 to one million American centenarians by 2050! That’s a mere 40 years from now. (I can relate – I’ll be 112.)

Credit for longevity advances is attributed to better sanitation, control of air and water borne diseases and other environmental measures, including an improved food supply and greater safety. There are still product recalls, but it’s not The Jungle that Upton Sinclair would write about. Three other factors also come into play — lifestyle habits, economic safety nets and medical advances. The former affects the quality of added years, the latter, the number of them.

Unfortunately, medical advances can keep you alive at the margins too long. Only a few have occasion to make the ultimate decision as to when enough is enough. Your chances of being able to say when are somewhat better (but still difficult) if you live in a right-to-die jurisdiction, like Oregon or the Netherlands. Do you really want to make it to 100 if it entails an extended period of years immobilized with the personality of a Fox News commentator?

Before yearning too much about longevity, you might want to do more to make the most of the time straight ahead. Recall the line by Susan Ertz in Anger in the Sky (1943): “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”

A study that includes around 1500 centenarians has been underway for ten years in the US.. The research consists of interviews looking for insights that can help others live long and well. The subjects provide DNA samples, take psychological tests and encourage relatives to talk with researchers about their lives. The centenarians agree to donate their brains for medical research. (A request that hopefully won’t remind the old folks of the organ donor skit in the Monty Python movie The Meaning of Life.)

Among the preliminary findings from this study are that centenarians enjoy good health, are gregarious, optimistic, happy and skilled at managing stress. What’s more, they seem to get along well with people, have clear thought patterns and an excellent sense of humor. For example, one lady was asked for the identity of nephews or nieces (for interview purposes) who have consistently taken an interest in her affairs? The woman replied, “Well, they’re all interested in my affairs.”

The study leaders note that most subjects are healthier than they originally expected. Most avoided the devastating diseases of old age until their last months or so (compression of senescence). While the researchers are not sure what to make of it, another finding is that five times as many women make it to 100 as men, and the women, unlike the men, prefer the single life.

Don will expound further and I’ll muster a reply in our next post. Stay tuned, and join in on the conversation with your comments!


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