‘Who wants to live forever?’ Freddy Mercury sang in the famous Queen song. While immortality is perhaps a bridge too far, living long certainly ranks high on most people’s wish lists. With the scientific, nutritional and spiritual knowledge freely available nowadays, a long life is within easy reach for most of us. Here are seven secrets to help add some years, perhaps even decades, to your life.
Granted, not a real secret anymore, yet regular exercise is one of the prime causes of longevity. ‘Use it or lose it’ is the body’s favourite mantra. Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, as long as it’s regular. A twenty minute jog or firm walk every day does the job. If every day is not possible, try to exercise at least three times a week. Science has shown that there is a steep rise in fitness if you go from two to three workouts a week. Swimming, biking, running, tennis or football – anything goes just as long as you’re moving and breaking a sweat. If you happen to be an exercise monster, take care that you take enough rest between workouts, or you destroy more than you build up.
Our lungs can hold an amazing amount of air – five to six liters for the average person – yet we use less than ten percent of that capacity while breathing. When we breathe in deeply and fill our lungs fully with air, we improve our oxygen intake, which in turn stimulates a healthy heart, brain and blood circulation. Deep breathing improves our digestion, since it massages the inner organs around the stomach. It also slows down the heartbeat and lowers or stabilizes blood pressure. Most importantly, a deep breath fills us with a calm, soothing energy and immediately relieves stress. Try to breath in deeply from your belly (which goes out when you breathe in) a few times every day. Your lungs and life will be grateful.
In many old religions the sun was worshipped as a life-giving force, and rightly so. Nowadays we have science to tell us that sunlight provides a steady dose of vitamin D, essential for our overall health and wellbeing. That’s also the reason why people rarely fall sick in summer. Next to sunlight, fresh air also does wonders for our health, which was the reason why sick people were often sent to health resorts by the sea. Besides that, nature has a proven positive effect on our mental health as well, making us calmer, happier and even more creative. Perhaps it is no wonders that farmers are among the longest living people on earth. Spending time outdoors on a regular basis is sure to add a few years to your life.
The Japanese region of Nagano can pride itself on having the longest life-expectancy in the world: 87.2 years for women and 80.9 years for men. It also has one of the highest non-retirement rates, with one in four people over 65 starting a second career. Keeping an active lifestyle after retirement is one of the least known secrets to longevity. We are brought up with the idea that people are old when they retire, but many active seniors are proving this to be unfounded. Work has a stimulating effect on both body and mind, and gives our life a sense of direction. Work keeps us alive in the natural, healthy flow of life. As the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran beautifully said, “You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth. For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.”
The health benefits of meditation have long been proven by scientific research. Meditation not only negates stress and tension, it also lowers blood pressure, stimulates the nervous system and boosts the immune system. Last but not least meditation creates a state of inner joy and optimism – all wonderful ingredients for a long and happy life. Just like with exercise, regularity pays off in meditation. The best results come from daily practice – even five minutes will do wonders. Just sit on a chair with your back straight and concentrate on following your breath, in and out, not allowing thoughts to take your focus away.
Again, watching your diet will come as no surprise in this list. Provide your body with the right fuel to keep it running smooth and healthy for as long as possible. As far as diet goes, what goes in your mouth is just as important as what stays out. Take plenty of fruits and veggies and try to minimize on products like sweets (sugar), refined grains, meat and white flour.
‘The secret of remaining young,’ Sri Chinmoy writes in one of his aphorisms, ‘is to devour beautiful and powerful thoughts.’* He also said, ‘Age is in the mind and not in the heart.’ In other words: you are as old as you feel. Try to put this wisdom to practice and feel that you are eternally young. Imagine the fountain of youth is spurting inside your heart. Think of yourself as only seven years old. If you can remain young in your mind and heart, your body is sure to follow.
* Sri Chinmoy, “77,000 Service-Trees, Part 25”, poem 24,308