Longevity and Tips for Living Longer

In my novels, I often include characters with a wide variety of ages. Sometimes a reader will ask if it’s accurate that one of my characters would have lived to be a senior. I tell them yes, because this is where statistics come in.

Sadly, up until the mid 1800s in America and England, nearly half of all children died before the age of ten. Nearly half. Childhood diseases such as measles, diphtheria (a deadly membrane that grows over the throat) and scarlet fever took many lives. Tuberculosis was another killer. Statistics vary slightly by region and time period, but the average lifespan for the early part of the century was roughly forty.

However, once a person got beyond childhood, these diseases weren’t usually fatal. So, let’s look at statistics. If one person lived until they were 4 years old and another lived till they were 76, the average lifespan of these two people would be 40.  Or if one person lived till they were 1 and another till they were 80, their average lifespan would be 40, as well. You get the idea…the average lifespan, statistically, doesn’t give a true picture of what that society looked like back then. It does not mean that people over the age of 40 were scarce. What it means is that half the population was wiped out in childhood.

Fortunately, after the 1850s, people started to understand the connection between germs and disease. Soaps and disinfectants came into common use. Public sanitation, such as garbage collection and water treatment, began in New York City. The average lifespan increased dramatically in the latter half of the century. And later, with the development of vaccines, most children’s lives were remarkably spared.

So how can we improve our own lives?

In writing this article, I goggled tips on longevity and you can imagine how long the list was. We pursue the fountain of youth with zeal. We’ve got anti-aging formulas, bottled vitamins, testimonials on new exercise techniques, cleansing products, and you name it.

What caught my eye were natural solutions, and not based on buying a certain product. In other words, getting back to basics. Besides eating well—especially vegetables and fruits—and getting regular mild exercise,  these are some other interesting tips I’d like to share:

1)     Some scientists believe that eating only until you feel 80% full, will prolong life. According to the BBC news, residents of Okinawa, Japan have four times more centenarians (those over 100) than the rest of the world. The calendar says they’re 70, but their body says they’re 50. Most impressively, a lot of them are healthy until the very end. They eat more tofu and soya products than any other population in the world, a rich source of anti-oxidants. But they also have a cultural tradition, called hara hachi bu, which means eating only until they feel 80% full. Recent lab studies with mice also mimics this result—those fed less, live longer.

2)     Taking deep cleansing breaths for 2 minutes a day stimulates the lymph system. The lymph system is Mother Nature’s way of getting rid of the toxins in our body naturally. Inhale slowly, hold it for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Lymph flow improves throughout the body.

3)     Studies show that being exposed to nature makes us feel better. A recent study of hospital patients who had a window view of trees and grass went home, on average, a day sooner than patients who didn’t. You don’t even have to be in this environment, you just have to see it!

4)     Natural endorphins in our bloodstream—that give us an emotional high and fight disease—can be triggered by laughter. These are the same endorphins that can be triggered by jogging (the runner’s high). So being a couch potato and watching sitcoms can be beneficial.

5)     Reduce your stress level. We’re all individuals and as such, different things trigger a lower stress level. For some, it’s exercise, for some it’s reading, others spend time with their children and families, or take a trip to the beach. Here’s one you may not know—scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but they’ve known for twenty or thirty years now that people who go to church regularly, in whatever faith they observe, live longer. It seems that churchgoers have significantly lower levels of stress hormones. What’s your method of relaxation?

6)     Singing can help you live longer. According to studies in the UK and one recently done in California with opera singers, and studies from Harvard and Yale with choir singers—singers live longer. Singing releases endorphins (those happy hormones) and increases oxygenation through the heart and lungs. Singing promotes a healthy heart and enhanced mental state. Wow!

Do you have any other tips you’ve heard of?  Are you blessed with longevity in your family?

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33 thoughts on “Longevity and Tips for Living Longer”

  1. Good morning, Wonderful and interesting post! Pets are good for several things for somepeople lowering blood pressure( unless you’re blessed with a unruley pet)
    activity, companionship, joy I’ve heard many good things in relation the people and pets they even say they’ve had wonderful results in kids with disabilities and emotional issues and the elderly also have found pets to be helpful in their life. I know just by rubbing my dog or cat i can tell i become more relaxed. I can’t wait to hear what others say on your post, it should be really interesting to hear what’s said.

  2. Hi Lori! You’re so right about pets. I forgot about them–they’re often used in hospitals and nursing homes to perk up spirits. Such wonderful companions, aren’t they? We’ve got a friendly little Bichon Frise–little white thing–who’s so friendly and loving, she’s wonderful to come home to. Thanks for your reminder! What pets do you have?

  3. Kate, what a great blog! I think you just about covered all the bases, especially with Lori’s excellent pet addition.

    I’m blessed with good genes. My grandparents on my mother’s side were farmers. They worked hard and ate home-grown foods. Ironically, their sons, several of whom were farmers, died at younger ages from cancers, presumably from the pesticides they used on the farms. My grandparents on my father’s side also lived long lives due to living simply and with a strong faith in God. They were Italian and thrived on pasta! LOL.

    Walking is a good stress reducer for me. That and taking cat-naps for energy.

    Great stuff!

  4. Well, after I regained consciousness from hyperventilating from the deep breathing, I gave this some thought.

    I am now going to go to church, while breathing deeply and bring a tofu snack and tiny TV in with me to watch Seinfeld reruns.

    I’ll live to be a 120, unless the other people in church beat me to death!

    I think the reason people who attend church live longer is indeed to do with stress. Having faith in a time of crisis really helps a person shift that burden. Believing we’ll see our loved ones again after death helps us deal with grief. And believing, as Christians do, that all things work together for Good for those that love the Lord, helps keep things in perspective. Helps us see that there’s hope and a future. That we don’t know the end while we’re in the middle of an experience.
    Great stress reducer.
    Or maybe we’re just miraculously healed of stuff more often. 🙂

  5. Hi Kate!

    Fascinating blog. Again, such thorough research. I, too, have done some research into the lives of those who are centenarians — they are scattered around the world and amazingly to me — many live in high places — the Georgians in Russia as well as two or three other places that I can’t recall off the top of my head. Weston Price also did much research into this — he was a dentist and traveled throughout the world noting different diets of different peoples.

    Also Howell (can’t recall his first name) did extensive research into this and he discovered that those peoples who ate mostly raw foods lived longest. And he himself lived well past the age of one hundred — gosh, I can’t even recall the name of his book — but he explains in his book why this is so.

    Price also found that diet plays a great part in this — and that those modern countries that eat the most processed foods have the most diseases and short life spans generally speaking — those native tribes that eat their natural foods from their environment have fewer diseases and stronger bones, etc. Of course his interest was in dental caries, and he discovered — and shows in detail in photographs the difference between generations that ate their natural diet and those that went more modern and ate the more modern processed food diet.

    If anyone is interested, email me directly — karenkay.author@earthlink.net — and I’ll go and look up the exact titles of these books.

    Anyway, just thought I would add this to the discussion.

    I also agree with Pam that having faith helps reduce one’s stress — thanks for bringing that up, Pam.

  6. Hi Pam! You’re so lucky you have longevity in your background. And there’s new evidence now of Mediterranean diets being really great for your health–ie. olive oils and vegetables. You may have heard that. My family’s from the Med area, too, so I’m happy to hear it! And farmers definitely eat better, don’t they? I try to make my daughter healthy foods for lunches, not processed foods, but it’s not always possible–I try my best!

  7. Hi Mary! LOL on the hyperventilating. You really touched on some great points about having faith. I especially relate to how feeling that we’ll see loved ones after death is an enormous help in grieving. I feel better just thinking about that–thanks for mentioning it!

  8. Pam–I meant to say thanks for mentioning walking as a great stress reducer. I must remember to get out there more often. Sometimes when I get really busy with deadlines, I skip the walks, and that’s probably the last thing I should be doing. I don’t really do cat-naps, but lots of people swear by them. Maybe I’ll give that a shot, too!

  9. Karen–thank you for adding all that information to the discussion! The point between processed food and raw food has been very prominent in the news recently. It’s tough, though, isn’t it, when you’re trying to cook for the family. I always read labels and try to stay away from chemical additives, too. It’s not 100% effective, but label-reading helps. Unfortunately, it cuts out all the fast food stuff. It depends where a person shops, too. I found a great grocery store locally that likes to stock organic canned foods, etc. Plus low sodium! I think society awareness and food manufacturers changing the way they produce food, would make us all healthier. We’re getting there, albeit slowly!

  10. Hi Kate,

    Interesting subject. I’ve heard that red wine three times a week will help you live longer. I haven’t tried this because I’m not really a wine-drinker. I do try to eat healthy and reduce my stress. Reading really relaxes me. I also do some meditation that focuses on my breathing and emptying my mind and feeling peaceful and serene.

    My mother was 87 when she passed away so she lived to a ripe old age. My dad however died when he was in his 60’s. I think longevity runs in my mother’s side of the family. My grandpa on her side lived to be pretty old.

    I’ve always wondered if there were many elderly people back in the 1800’s if the normal span was only 40 years. Thank you for clearing that up.

  11. Hi Kate – One word, GARLIC! I think that’s why Italians live long. My husband’s grandmother lived a healthy life to 99. She ate garlic, whole, every day and drank red wine. My father said wine,not blood ran through his veins. 🙂

    For me, writing is my great escape. It soothes me and keeps the demons away. When my father passed, I only coped because I’d turn to the computer and escape into my world. It’s a stress buster for me.

    We eat well, lots of salad and fiber and we try to exercise at least 4x a week. Last night, we took a really great walk. I think it’s a combination of all the good things we do, that measures up to a great long happy life.

    And it was great seeing you in CA! Glad you made it home safely! Back in the saddle as they say!

  12. It wasn’t just infant death, though that was huge, it was also death in childbirth. You throw in how many women died giving birth and that drags the age of death way, way down.

    I have so many women in my family history that died having children…in fact sometimes you’d say it was almost the norm. A woman would just have child after child after child until finally something went wrong. And she’d die.

    Then the man would remarry and have a bunch of kids with the new wife.

    My father’s father was married twice, had nine kids in all.

    My mother’s father lost his first wife in childbirth on their second child.

    My mother’s father’s father lost his wife in childbirth on her tenth child.

  13. I have a fact wrong my father’s father wasn’t married twice. My paternal grandfather was one of those nine kids.
    So it was my great-grandfather who was married twice.

  14. which reminds me of a time honored joke.
    By time honored, I mean, you’ve probably all heard it before.

    Married men live longer then single men.

    Or maybe it just seems longer.

  15. Hi Linda! You’re right about the red wine. Something about it being good for the heart. I do enjoy a glass of it now and again, so maybe it’s doing some good.

    I often wondered about the elderly back then, too. I’ve even had a copy editor once ask on a manuscript if it was feasible to have a 70 yr old in the story. That’s what started my whole explanation to her about statistics. Then I thought if she’s confused, there must be others who aren’t sure either….

    Thanks for your post!

  16. Charlene! Yes, we mustn’t forget about garlic! LOL. My dad’s a huge believer. He got his BP down by eating tons of it. It has some sort of antibiotic property, too, that’s really interesting. I don’t know much about it other than that. Writing reduces my stress, too. I can totally immerse myself into my characters problems and forget about my own for a while.

    And CHARLENE–I started reading your book DO NOT DISTURB TILL CHRISTMAS

  17. Sorry, I hit the button before I meant to…

    CHARLENE — DO NOT DISTURB UNTIL CHRISTMAS is fabulous! I love it! I started reading it on the plane home and I’ve now got a favorite new contemporary writer. 🙂 Wow, very sexy read and really wonderful characters. I’ve only read your historicals before this, so it was fascinating to see how easily you go from one voice to the other, in time periods. I highly recommend the book! No wonder it’s a bestseller right now!

    Yes, I did make it safely home from California and my conference. And it was great to see you and have lunch! 🙂

  18. Mary, you sure know a lot about your family history. That’s really wonderful that you know so much. My family came from Europe and I barely know anything past two generations.

    That’s so sad about the women dying in childbirth. I wonder what it was…if hemorrhaging was the main killer. I did read in statistics that childbirth was the number one killer of women in that century. We sure have come a long way, thank goodness!

  19. I think it was a lot of the time a fever. My mother in law, who is 89 said women would have the baby fine and, if she didn’t hemorrhage which was also huge, about a day later, she’d start running a fever and just DIE. They called it Childbed fever and it was terribly common.
    Her second child was born in…yikes, doing the math, Tim is around 62. 2008 minus—opening the handy computer calculator—1946. Right after WWII.
    Tim was born, her second child and she started running a fever. Well, that was just a pure death sentence. EXCEPT they gave her a shot of penicillen. She’d never had it before. She’d never HEARD of anyone having it before. It went from still a labratory experiement in 1940 to massive use during WWII to save soldiers.
    So my mother in law got a shot and was fine. She’s sure she’d have died otherwise. Imagine that advance in medical science!
    It sure made a difference in my life, since my husband wasn’t born yet.

    And yeesh, we’ve got so much dug up on my family history it’s ridiculous. We’ve got people on all sides crazed for geneology. So I own all these self-published books on my ancestors.
    Pretty interesting but I’d have never done it myself.
    I had an ancestor who came to America in 1638. That’s 18 years after Jamestown.

  20. Good post, Kate. #4 is a riot but I won’t tell my kids…

    I fervantly agree that people who attend church live longer. I mean, when you hand everything over to the Lord, whether it’s a small thing like lost keys, or something huge like cancer, then that alleviates mucho stress. Without stress, less heart attacks, stomach ulcers, migraines, etc. Why wouldn’t someone hand over their troubles when given the chance?

    My maternal grandmother lived to 92. The people in her seniors complex used to tease her about running in the halls. 🙂

    My mother will turn 80 this spring. She’s just starting to show gray and the rest of her hair is thick. I don’t know why she hasn’t many wrinkles except I know she always used hand lotion on her face and hands at least 3 times a day.

    I am over 50 and I do have grey streaks – but only on the part of my head where the cells are dead because I got drilled in the scalp by a carpenter’s plumb bob when I was nine. sigh

  21. What a great blog Kate–and great comments. My dad and three of his siblings lived into their nineties. His sister, a darling little lady, died 2 weeks short of her 100th birthday. Since my mom’s family all lived into their mid-eighties, I figure I may be around awhile, so I’m doing all I can to make my body last. Currently taking a class that combines yoga and strength training–it’s awsome. Can’t believe the difference it’s made. Also I combine two of the above suggestions–I sing to my cats. At least they don’t complain.

  22. You have presented us with much good information.
    In fact, I plan to share your information with my
    fellow choir members. They will especially like
    #5. Honey and I and our oldest daughter are all
    choir members and none of us look our age. Missy, who is in her early 40s, has sung for 28 years and
    looks as if she is in her mid 20s. Honey and I have sung since the early ’80s. People think we’re in our 50s yet he’s late 60s and I’m 72. We can attest to the truth in #5!

    Pat Cochran

  23. Mary, yeah, a fever makes sense. Severe infection. How sad. That’s so lucky that your MIL got a shot of penicillin. And 1638? That’s amazing! You’re one of the founding families. 🙂

  24. Hi Anita Mae! Don’t you just love it when you hear your kids laughing? It sounds like you have some really good genes! The hand lotion is a great tip. I remember when I toured New Orleans (before Katrina), one of the tour guides mentioned that their extreme humidity produced less wrinkles on most people. The drier the air, the more the wrinkles, apparently. So the hand lotion would feed into this notion. Makes sense. I still have very oily skin on my face, prone to breaking out, and my doctor tells me oily skin wrinkles less (she was trying to cheer me up) Thank goodness it’s good for something!

  25. Wow, Elizabeth, you’ve got great genes, too! Yoga and strength training sounds like an excellent idea. I try with mild weights, and when I’m into it, feel really good physically. I haven’t done it for a few months, but your post has prodded me to pick it up again!

  26. Pat, you’re living proof of the choir singers! Wow, how funny that you’re all so youthful looking. Must be a great-looking choir! By all means, please share the post with them. My goodness, those are amazing reductions in age!

    Elizabeth–I meant to add that you look very healthy and trim. Must be that yoga! 🙂

  27. Hi Kate thought i would check back in and see what everyone wrote and for Charlene’s comment about the garlic my dad grows his own elephant ear garlic and it’s awesome and he also will eat it raw.
    Answering your question I have a adorable fawn Pug i adopted from my daughter after the potty training gone bad which now she wants her to herself but i said we could share her and i have 2 st. Benards that have the whole back yard fenced in just for them and 1 Himalayn Cat and a solid white cat that i saw someone throw out on the road when it wasn’t even old enough to eat she was infested with fleas and almost died I cleaned her up and got her eating and was going to find her a good home and figured ours would work for her so we kept her and she hates the puppy because she was the queen B but i’m trying to convince her there’s enough love for everyone. I’m afraid my cat must have PMS too !

  28. How interesting! I believe that family history has a big bearing on how long we live. My grandfather was square dancing at 90, passed away at 99 following surgery complications, My other grandfather was 87 and my grandmother was 92. The other passed away at 52 of a brian tumor back when so little was known. My father is 87 and my mother lived to 79. I think being born into a family with good genes has set me up for a long life. Now I pray that the good Lord agrees.
    Faith, low stress and love also helps.

  29. Lori–that’s quite a household of adorable pets. LOL on the cat with PMS!

    Connie–what a great family history! You all sound so active, and I think that’s the key to a great long life.

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