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Avoiding dementia and increasing longevity.

In a previous article I said I would provide a list of actions that are recommended in order to guard against dementia and improve longevity. Here is an abbreviated list of strategies from my new book on growing older without growing old. An electronic version of the book will soon be available at our website.

Stimulate the brain.

Good old-fashioned reading, writing and arithmetic stimulate the brain and grow more connections. Keep mentally active, whether it’s by doing crossword puzzles, discussing the weather, writing poetry, reading or working on your income tax.

Maintain lifelong learning.

Wisdom usually comes with age; but sometimes just age comes with age. So keep on learning. Lifelong learning could delay the onset of cognitive impairment by 3 to 8 years.

Build and maintain relationships.

Staying socially engaged affects your cognitive functioning and keeps your cells from aging too fast. Research indicates that the more social connections you have, the greater your ability to fight infection and keep your cells from aging too quickly.

Reduce stress.

Do everything you can to reduce excessive stress in your life since stress serves to exacerbate dementia. Stress can induce the release of cortisol and excess cortisol impairs function in the prefrontal cortex. The overproduction of cortisol was found in seniors who were experiencing memory loss.

Exercise regularly.

Physical exercise not only increases circulation of nutrient-carrying blood to the brain and stimulates the creation of new neurons. It also reduces the risk of dying from heart disease, stroke, diabetes – and improves mood, muscles, bones and lung capacity.

Get enough sleep.

Although many people sleep less as they get older, your need for sleep does not decrease. Sleep is one of the most important predictors of how long you will live — as important as whether you smoke, exercise or have high blood pressure.

Move around.

Researchers are now finding that even getting up from your chair is a lot better than sitting down most of the day. One study indicated that sitters had a 50% greater likelihood of dying from any cause during the eight and a half year study.

Watch what you eat.

Any food that reduces high blood pressure or helps the cardiovascular system in any way is good for the brain, since the brain’s blood supply is critical. This includes such foods as oatmeal, brown rice and grain breads. EPA omega-3 fish oil is also recommended since it keeps the cell membranes in the brain flexible, slows cognitive decline, and reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Spend more time outdoors.

It is a fact that trees, grass, plants and vegetation affects us both physically and mentally. And sunlight causes the body to release serotonin – one of the reasons you feel in a good mood on sunny days. Hospitals and seniors homes are introducing more greenery into their facilities because of the impact of vegetation on healing, mood and pain control.

Maintain a view of nature.

If you are unable to spend much time outdoors have a view of nature if at all possible. Patients in hospital rooms with a window view require less pain medication and spend less time in the hospital. Recent studies found that urban green spaces, such as plants and gardens, also improve cognitive development.

Grow indoor plants.

Plants not only give off oxygen, they are able to absorb environmental chemicals and transport them to the soil. They act as vacuum cleaners removing pollution from the air. Studies have shown that the presence of potted plants, for example, improves productivity, creativity, performance and learning ability.

Volunteer.

Scientists have tracked 2025 people aged 55 and older for five years and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 63% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer. That was reduced to 26% when the only volunteered for one organization. By helping others you are helping yourself.

Listen to music.

Music can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. It increases creativity and learning skills. Background music has also been known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration – and helps keep dementia at bay.

Grow spiritually.

Spiritual people tend to live longer, happier, healthier lives. Research from the University of Toronto showed that thinking about God or other spiritual beliefs keep you calm under fire. People with depression who believe in a caring, higher being are 75% more likely to get relief from medication. 99% of the physicians in 1999 meeting of the American Academy of family physicians said they believed that religious beliefs aid healing.

Maintain purpose and pursue goals.

Have a purpose in life – a reason to get up every morning, and the motivation to face the day’s trials as well as its joys. Having goals and focusing on long-term challenges, keep you mentally alert, and give you that extra push that keeps life interesting and fulfilling. Challenge the brain results in more brain cells and more connections.

 Laugh often.

Laughter has healing power and it has been known to reduce blood pressure decrease, heart rate and increase respiration. When you laugh, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines. When you relax again afterwards, that good feeling lasts for a day or two.

Get organized

An article in Rodale’s January/February, 2018 issue of Prevention Guide states that “People who consider themselves self-disciplined, organized achievers live longer and have up to an 89% lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s than the less conscientious, according to two studies.”

Watch your attitude.

Your outlook on life is linked to your health and well-being. A survey of more than 500 people 70 and over thought it was important to keep a youthful mindset, and researchers at the University of Michigan also linked it to a longer life.

 

 

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Friendship clubs can increase longevity.

 I promised periodic updates on country living and how it can increase health and longevity. Here is a description of a local friendship club, simple and informal, that I mention in a new book I am writing with the working title of “How to grow old without growing older.” Following the description, I summarize in point form those benefits relating to health and well-being that could result from participating in all of the activities provided by the club.

Associated with the Sussex and area seniors’ centre, a group called the Fundy Silverados Friendship Club, was started by a handful of senior men who penned the mission statement “To enhance the quality of life for members through fellowship and the helping of others in need.” I joined shortly after arriving in Sussex, NB just over a year ago.

There are about 50 of us at the time of writing, and our ages vary from the late fifties to the late nineties – all of us young enough to attend regularly and participate in the events, which are not physically demanding. We get together every Tuesday morning at 9:30 for fun and friendship.  Most of us arrive early around 9 AM and listen to various members playing the fiddle, banjo, organ, or guitar as well as singing. I’m amazed at the talent of some of our members.

We all wear name tags (with extra-large lettering) at every meeting, and greet one another as we arrive.

Our meetings usually last 90 minutes, with the first 30 minutes spent meeting and greeting, renewing friendships and taking part in or listening to music. We start the “formal” part of the meeting by singing “Oh Canada” and have a guest speaker at most meetings – one who talks and answers questions on a topic of interest to seniors.

We have a “Fines Master” who dreams up ridiculous 25-cent fines for members – such as anyone not wearing a red tie (I have never seen a tie worn there yet) or anyone who isn’t wearing his “Silverados” cap. (Few would risk doing so in public.)

Some members contribute items that are auctioned to the highest bidder – usually at ridiculously low or ridiculously high prices. The items are frequently healthy, fresh vegetables, honey or maple syrup from the farms; but could be anything from 30-year old National Geographic magazines to someone’s hand-made bird house.

The members agree on which of the local charities should receive any extra funds we may generate through these “fun” auctions, trumped up fines, membership fees, and miscellaneous activities.

There is also a tradition of telling jokes or reading humorous poems – a popular part of the program.

We have about a dozen committees on the go so that everyone has an opportunity to actively participate, including volunteer drivers, visitation to those who are ill, telephone committee, membership, program, and so on. We have a roll call at each meeting so we can keep track of our members and identify who may be ill – or simply “on vacation.”

We also have dinners and other activities with our spouses/companions throughout the year, and once a month our meeting venue is a local restaurant, where we have breakfast that morning.

We adjourn all our meetings with the singing of “God Save Our Queen.”

 Health benefits of groups such as this:

  • Provides members with the social interaction and opportunity to build the friendships so vital to increased health and longevity. Data collected from Brigham Young University showed that people with active social lives were 50% less likely to die from any cause than their non-social counterparts.
  • Provides an opportunity for involvement at the committee level and active volunteering, which has been shown to increase longevity. Scientists have tracked 2025 people aged 55 and older for 5 years and found that those who volunteered for even one organisation, were 26% less likely to die during the study than those who didn’t volunteer.
  • Adds purpose and significance to a senior’s life, which in some cases might be lacking. According to research on aging, those with purpose and goals in life reported higher levels of satisfaction and well-being.
  • Provides mental stimulation and moderate exercise and an opportunity to get out of the house and become both physically and mentally more active. Keeping the brain active, even if it’s just listening to a speaker, writing or memorizing someone’s name, helps grow new brain cells.
  • Introduces caring into the lives of those with limited mobility by regular visitation, telephone conversation, and “get well” or “thinking of you” cards. People thrive on attention. Hugging, for instance, based on research, is believed to fight infection, boost your immune system, ease depression, and lessen fatigue and lower blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Through the “joke period” and personal interaction, and levity of most of the activities, fun and laughter are introduced into the seniors’ lives, which in themselves have been known to aid in healing and even cure diseases. Laughter has been known to reduce blood pressure and heart rate and increase respiration. When you laugh, the body releases endorphins, and depression declines.
  • Provides lifelong learning through guest speakers and one-on-one conversations, one of the major ways of keeping cognitively fit and avoiding or delaying dementia. Research indicates that lifelong learning could delay the onset of cognitive impairment by 3 to 8 years.
  • Both playing a musical instrument and listening to music can enhance learning and higher brain function and even improve memory performance. It increases creativity and learning skills. Background music has also been known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure, and improve concentration.

One of the greatest benefits of a friendship club, regardless of whether it consists of five people at a coffee shop or 55 people in a Golden Jubilee Senior’s Centre, which is the case with our Silverados group, is that it gets you out of the house and counteracts loneliness. The lonely are twice as likely to have ulcers. And go back to an empty house after your first heart attack and you double the risk of a second heart attack within a few months – proof that you should seek companionship at all times.

You will also find that seniors with common interests tend to get together at other times during the week – in groups of two to ten or more – at Tim Horton’s or McDonald’s, either for early morning coffee or breakfast. And according to the many scientists, the more friendships you develop, the longer you live.

Friendship clubs are excellent places to meet people who have formed these smaller groups that meet more frequently.