I was recently asked to reveal my personal approach to health and longevity; that is, how to delay the usual pitfalls of aging as long as possible. While death is inevitable, the goal here is to have a joyous fulfilling and healthy life for as many years as possible along the way . I’ll share what has worked for me, my friends, colleagues, readers, and patients.
As a board- certified psychiatrist and practitioner of integrative medicine, I long ago abandoned the mainstream approach of the “physician as the all-knowing expert, a prescription, for every ailment, and the 10-20 minute office visit.” Instead, I spend an hour or two with patients, work with them as a partner in their health, and look for root causes rather than treating symptoms. For the most part, I depend on natural treatments including lifestyle and supplements, prescribing medications where appropriate and only as a last resort. The natural “prescriptions” that I give out require more participation than simply taking a pill every few hours. Similarly, the key to preserving our health is participation. There are no shortcuts.
Of course, even doing our best in these areas, we all succumb to the inevitable at some point. I have had friends who lived cleanly and exuberantly—and they departed too early in my opinion. The lesson here is – live every day fully, since it may be your last. Paradoxically, when taken to heart, this awareness can make life a true joy. We’ve seen people told they had several months to live find great meaning in every aspect of the time remaining, and stuffing lifetimes of quality experience into those hours and days. The Bucket List, with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman is a perfect example of the turnaround that a “known” death sentence can inspire. Both diagnosed with advanced cancer, we see how companionship and mutual encouragement can be wonderfully life-enhancing, even — or especially– in the face of death.
So how do we stay as youthful as we can? There are no magic pills, specific hormones, or special diet that are “the answer.” The result derives from a mysterious combination of factors, only some of which we can know or control. There is much that is unknown, as well. According to Deepak Chopra, and others I know who have traveled to India, there are psychic readers there that are able to tell you your date of death if you ask them. This has piqued my curiosity ever since. Does this mean we are already ordained to die at a certain time– so why bother doing anything about it? Knowing our date, do we then make the very best of our remaining time? Or, do we dismiss these predictions as primitive superstition? What effect would it have on your life if you knew your date of death? My own philosophy is that it can happen at any time, so don’t take anything for granted—your health, your relationships, and the beauty that surrounds us all if we only take the time to look.
Questions abound, but I also have a few answers, guidelines to healthy living that will help you make the best of the body and life that you have.
Here is a short checklist of Life Enhancers and likely, Life Extenders that I have found to be useful in this quest:
1. A positive attitude, including psychological well-being and resiliency in the face of life’s stresses
2. Satisfying, fulfilling relationships
3. Stress Management: Build up your stress-resilience
4. A healthy lifestyle including good diet, appropriate supplements, and regular exercise
5. Hormonal supplementation (herbal, or prescription bio-identical) to compensate for waning levels
Here is a deeper look at the checklist:
1. Positive Attitude:
Research shows that attitude has a powerful affect on the immune system. A positive attitude goes a long way toward keeping us young, vital, and healthy, just as a pessimistic, negative attitude can be aging. Happiness in not happenstance: it is cultivated. We’ve seen people living in miserable circumstances radiating joy, while many with “perfect” lives are miserable. Two books that I recommend on how to create your own happiness are What Happy People Know by Dan Baker, and Happy for No Reason: 7 Steps to Being Happy from the Inside Out by Marci Shimoff.
2. Spend quality time with others, in healthy relationship:
Be supportive and loving toward your friends and family. In fact, helping others is a great remedy for anxiety and depression. Volunteer at a hospital or homeless shelter. There is no greater reward than what we receive from giving to others. Research shows that married men live longer and healthier lives than single ones, and it is likely that all the love and support is keeping them going. And for everyone: don’t forget hugs — natural, safe, free, and mutually beneficial!
3. Stress Management:
Stress is inevitable. It’s not so much what the stresses are, but how we handle them that is most important. As Mark Twain said, “I have had many troubles on my life, most of which never happened.” Allowing our built-in stress response, the flight or flight mechanism, to take over, not only interferes with our productivity, efficiency, and joy, but can negatively impact every system of our body – blood pressure, digestion, cholesterol levels, and even our immunity to infection. All of this robs us of our energy, and our years. Beyond the Stress Response: There are a variety of specific brief and simple techniques that effectively deal with chronic feeling of stress and anxiety. One of my favorites is Gary Craig’s EFT (www.emofree.com). Though it’s best done initially with a therapist, once you have a good start, you can continue on your own. A powerful tool, EFT combines positive imagery and specific pressure points on the body to release negative thoughts and feelings. Another outstanding technique, called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), uses rapid eye movements (or tapping on alternate sides of the body, such as on alternate knees) to help synchronize the two sides of your brain. This allows negative feelings of fear, pain, and anger to move through you, and be released. EMDR helps to put you back in your emotional driver’s seat (www.EMDR.org).
You can also use positive thinking to reprogram your mind. Add some visualization, picturing and sensing how you would like your life to be, and how you would like to experience an ideal planet. Research has shown this to be a very powerful way to create change in yourself and the world around you.
Along with a positive attitude goes a spiritual connection, being in the present and connected to a larger purpose. Life must have meaning, connection to the Universe outside ourselves, whatever one’s concept of the Divine is. This may include regular meditation, prayer, or simply being present to the wonders of nature.
Adaptogens are specialized herbs that support your adrenals and give you sustained energy when needed. Some of my favorites are rhodiola, reishi mushroom and Siberian ginseng, which can be found in my Energy Balance formula.
Deep relaxed breathing is an excellent anxiety and stress reducer, and overall tension reliever. Try it. You won’t be able to both breathe deeply and feel anxious or tense at the same time! Regular meditation practice takes this a step further. Try 10 minutes twice a day. There are many excellent books and courses – or simply sit quietly and focus on your breath. Your mind and body will naturally settle into a quiet, restorative state. You can add in a supplement formula containing theanine, GABA, glutamine and other natural ingredients that help your brain and body to chill, such as my CALM Natural Mind.
Adapted from Dr. Cass’ chapter in The Fountain: 25 Experts Reveal Their Secrets of Health and Longevity from the Fountain of Youth by Jack Challem, editor; Basic Health Publications, Inc, 2009. Learn more about Dr. Hyla Cass on our Experts Page and at www.cassmd.com.
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