Healthy At 100 : The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World's Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples
Why do some people age in failing health and sadness, while others grow old with vitality and joy?
In this revolutionary book, bestselling author John Robbins presents us with a bold new paradigm of aging, showing us how we can increase not only our lifespan but also our health span. Through the example of four very different cultures that have the distinction of producing some of the world's healthiest, oldest people, Robbins reveals the secrets for living an extended and fulfilling life in which our later years become a period of wisdom, vitality, and happiness. From Abkhasia in the Caucasus south of Russia, where age is beauty, and Vilcabamba in the Andes of South America, where laughter is the greatest medicine, to Hunza in Central Asia, where dance is ageless, and finally the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa, the modern Shangri-la, where people regularly live beyond a century, Robbins examines how the unique lifestyles of these peoples can influence and improve our own.
Bringing the traditions of these ancient and vibrantly healthy cultures together with the latest breakthroughs in medical science, Robbins reveals that, remarkably, they both point in the same direction. The result is an inspirational synthesis of years of research into healthy aging in which Robbins has isolated the characteristics that will enable us to live long and-most important-joyous lives. With an emphasis on simple, wholesome, but satisfying fare, and the addition of a manageable daily exercise routine, many people can experience great improvement in the quality of their lives now and for many years to come. But perhaps more surprising is Robbins' discovery that it is not diet and exercise alone that helps people to live well past one hundred. The quality of personal relationships is enormously important. With startling medical evidence about the effects of our interactions with others, Robbins asserts that loneliness has more impact on lifespan than such known vices as smoking. There is clearly a strong beneficial power to love and connection.
"We all have the tools to live longer lives, and to remain active, productive, and resourceful until the very end," Robbins writes. Healthy at 100 strives to improve both the quality and the quantity of our remaining years-no matter how old or how healthy we might currently be-and to reverse the social stigma on aging. After reading this book, we will never think about age-or life-in the same way again.
"John Robbins has inspired millions of people with his eloquent, clear, compassionate, and insightful guidance on the path to health and fulfillment. Healthy at 100 may be his finest work to date. If you are interested in extending your health span as well as your life span, read this book! Healthy at 100 is a masterpiece."
-Dean Ornish, M.D., president and director of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, author of Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease
"This is a remarkably open and heartfelt book full of wisdom and love by an extraordinary man who has been teaching us how to live more healthy and compassionate lives for over twenty years now. John Robbins has created a new vision of aging for American society."
-John Mackey, CEO, Whole Foods
"John Robbins is one of the most important voices in America today. He cuts through nonsense like no one else does. He gives hope like no one else does. His words are lifelines for both the body and soul. This book can literally save our lives."
-Marianne Williamson, author of A Return to Love and A Woman's Worth
"Healthy at 100 is a marvelous blend of wisdom, hope, courage, and common sense. John Robbins gives us caring, science, and inspiration-a beautiful diet for the heart."
-Jack Kornfield, co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock, author of A Path with Heart
"As the low-carb diet craze is gone, John Robbins proposes a far healthier approach that leads not just to a healthy weight but also to a joyful and fulfilled life. Healthy at 100 is packed with informed and heartfelt wisdom."
-Jorge Cruise, author of The 3-Hour Diet, creator of JorgeCruise.com
"John Robbins inspires me on every page. His unique experiences and viewpoints were the reasons I wanted him to be in my film Super Size Me. This book only reinforces my faith in him as a thought-provoking humanitarian."
-Morgan Spurlock, producer and director of Super Size Me
How do the Abkhasians of the Caucasus Mountains, the Vilcabambans of Ecuador and the Hunzans of Pakistan live to a very old age while enjoying full physical and mental health? Robbinswho famously rejected his Baskin-Robbins inheritance to pursue a healthful and compassionate lifestyle that he would eventually trumpet in his bestselling Diet for a New Americaexplains that all three cultures eat fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and other natural foods that are low in calories, protein, sugar and fat. They cherish their children and their elders, foster a positive mental attitude and place a premium on vigorous and constant physical activity that is built into their daily routines. Industrialized nations, on the other hand, fear and loathe the aging process and disrespect the elderly. Their citizens often lead stressful lives, stuff themselves with processed foods and drive everywhere. As Robbins challenges readers to give up bad habits and adopt smarter routines concerning food, exercise and work, he distills the familiar philosophies of Dean Ornish and other gurus and serves up some hippie-dippy pap ("Dance in the moonlight"). Yet his advice is mostly commonsensical and scientifically sound, and readers seeking that elusive fountain of youth would be wise to listen up. (Sept. 12) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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August 26, 2007
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Excerpt from Healthy At 100 by John Robbins
Abkhasia: Ancients of the Caucasus
People don't grow old. When they stop growing, they become old.
In the early 1970s, National Geographic magazine approached the world-renowned physician Alexander Leaf, asking him to visit, study, and write an article about the world's healthiest and most long-living people. Dr. Leaf, a professor of clinical medicine at Harvard University and Chief of Medical Services at Massachusetts General Hospital, had long been a student of the subject and had already visited and studied some of the cultures known for the healthy lives of their elderly people. Now, National Geographic commissioned him to continue these travels and investigations and to share with the world his observations and comparisons of those areas of the planet which were famous for the longevity and health of their inhabitants. It was a time, unlike today, when these regions and their cultures were still somewhat pristine.
As a scientist, Dr. Leaf did not believe in a mythical fountain of youth in which anyone can bathe and be miraculously restored to eternal youth; nor did he believe in magic potions that can instantly heal all afflictions. But he did believe it was possible that there existed certain places on earth where people actually lived longer and healthier lives than is considered normal in the modern West. His goal was not to identify the oldest living individual, but rather to locate and study those societies--if they did in fact exist--where a large percentage of elder citizens retained their faculties, were vigorous, and enjoyed their lives. Rather than being interested in mythology or panaceas, his goal was to understand the key factors that influence human prospects for long and healthy life.
Dr. Leaf undertook a series of journeys that he subsequently described in an influential series of articles that appeared in National Geographic magazine beginning in 1973.1 His writings were among the first authoritative efforts to bring practical medical knowledge and research to our desire to know what we can do to impact the future of our lives.
When Dr. Leaf began his study and his travels, three regions of the world were famous for the longevity of their inhabitants: the valley of Vilcabamba in Ecuador, the Hunza region of Pakistan, and certain portions of the Caucasus mountains in what was then the Soviet Union. These three locales had long been the subject of claims that they were home to the longest living and healthiest people on earth. According to the stories swirling around these high mountainous regions, people in these communities often lived spectacularly long lives in vibrant health.
Dr. Leaf and prizewinning National Geographic photographer John Launois traveled to these remote areas to meet, photograph, examine, and appraise for themselves the longevity and health of those who were reputed to be the world's oldest and healthiest people. Dr. Leaf listened to their hearts, took their blood pressure, and studied their diets and lifestyles. He watched them dance and saw them bathe in ice-cold mountain streams. He spoke with them about their daily lives, their hopes, their fears, their life histories. His goal was to separate fact from fallacy and determine the truth about longevity.
LONGEVITY IN ABKHASIA
"Certainly no area in the world," Leaf wrote, "has the reputation for long-lived people to match that of the Caucasus in southern Russia."2 And in all the Caucasus, the area most renowned for its extraordinary number of healthy centenarians (people above the age of 100) was Abkhasia (pronounced "ab-KAY-zha"). A 1970 census had established Abkhasia, then an autonomous region within Soviet Georgia, as the longevity capital of the world. "We were eager to see the centenarians," Leaf said, "and Abkhasia seemed to be the place to do so."3
Abkhasia covers three thousand square miles between the eastern shores of the Black Sea and the crestline of the main Caucasus range. It is bordered on the north by Russia, and on the south by Georgia.
Prior to Dr. Leaf's visit, claims had been widely circulated for life spans reaching 150 years among the Abkhasians. Just a few years earlier, Life magazine had run an article with photos of Shirali Muslimov, said to be 161 years old.4 In one of the photos, Muslimov was shown with his third wife. He told the reporter that he had married her when he was 110, that his parents had both lived to be over 100, and that his brother had died at the age of 134.
Muslimov had passed away by the time of Leaf's studies. But a woman named Khfaf Lasuria had also been featured in the Life article. Leaf wanted to meet her, and he found her in the Abkhasian village of Kutol, where she sang in a choir made up entirely, he was told, of Abkhasian centenarians.
I had a long talk with this diminutive--she stands not five feet tall--sprightly woman who claimed to be 141 years old. . . . Although she carried a handsomely carved wooden walking stick, her nimbleness belied need of it. Her memory seemed excellent. . . . She spoke lucidly and easily about events recent and past. At the age of 75 to 80 as a midwife she assisted more than 100 babies into the world. . . . She described the life of women: "Women had a very difficult time before the Revolution; we were practically slaves." And she ended our talk with a toast, "I want to drink to women all over the world . . . for them not to work too hard and to be happy with their families."5
Though he was greatly impressed by this elderly lady's charm and spirit, Leaf did not simply take her word for her age. To the contrary, he went to significant efforts to assess it objectively. Such a task is harder than it might sound, for there are no signs in the human body, like the annual rings of a tree, that tell us a person's age.
After laborious investigations, Leaf concluded that Mrs. Lasuria was close to 130 years old. He wasn't certain about that, saying only that he had arrived at a degree of confidence and this was his best estimate. But he was sure of one thing. She was one of the oldest persons he had ever met.6
Everywhere he went in Abkhasia, Leaf met elders in remarkable health. The area seemed to warrant its reputation as the mecca of superlongevity. Like others who have studied the elders of Abkhasia, Leaf had colorful stories to tell. He wrote of one elder, nearly 100, whose hearing was still good and whose vision was still superb.
"Have you ever been sick?" Leaf asked.
The elder thought for some time, then replied, "Yes, I recall once having a fever, a long time ago."
"Do you ever see a doctor?"
The old man was surprised by the question, and replied, "Why should I?"
Leaf examined him and found his blood pressure to be normal at 118/60 and his pulse to be regular at 70 beats per minute.
"What was the happiest period of your life?" Leaf asked.
"I feel joy all my life. But I was happiest when my daughter was born. And saddest when my son died at the age of one year from dysentery."7
Among the others Leaf met were a delightful trio of gentlemen who, like many elderly Abkhasians, were still working despite their advanced age. They were Markhti Tarkhil, whom Leaf believed to be 104; Temur Tarba, who was apparently 100; and Tikhed Gunba, a mere youngster at 98. All were born locally. Temur said his father died at 110, his mother at 104, and an older brother just that year at 109. After a short exam, Leaf said that Temur's blood pressure was a youthful 120/84, and his pulse was regular at a rate of 69.8
The old fellows clowned around constantly, joking and teasing each other and Leaf. While he was checking pulses and blood pressures the other two would shake their heads in mock sadness at the one being examined, saying "Bad, very bad!" They never seemed to tire of friendly joking, always finding new ways to have fun. Leaf was impressed by their sharp minds, high spirits, and relentless sense of humor.
Like many of the elders in Abkhasia, regardless of the weather, these men swam daily in cold mountain streams. One day, Leaf accompanied Markhti Tarkhil on his morning plunge and was astonished by the vitality and physical agility of the 104-year-old.9 It was a steep and rugged half-mile climb down from the road to the river, but Markhti moved with confident speed and agility. Seeing Markhti take off down the slope, Leaf, a physician coming from a society where elders have thin and fragile bones, was concerned that the older man might fall, and thought he should accompany Markhti down the hill and see to it that he didn't slip. But he was unable to do so, because he couldn't keep up with the pace of the far older man, who as it turned out never lost his footing. Later, Leaf learned from the regional doctor that there is no osteoporosis among the active elders, and that fractures are rare.
When Markhti arrived at the riverbank, he stripped and waded out into the stream, immersing his entire body in the cold water. A young guide Leaf had brought with him from Moscow also stripped and began wading into the water, but immediately jumped out, exclaiming that the water was far too cold.
After bathing in the cold water for some time, Markhti got out, dried himself off, put on his clothes, and proceeded to climb swiftly back up the rugged slope, with Leaf, who was a half-century younger and who considered himself physically fit, once again struggling to keep up.
ARE THEY REALLY THAT OLD?
After Leaf's articles in National Geographic appeared, however, a heated controversy developed over the validity of the ages claimed by some Abkhasians. When people say they are 140 or 150 years old, this naturally raises eyebrows. When the Soviet press announced that Shirali Muslimov was 168 years old, and the government commemorated the assertion by putting his face on a postage stamp, knowledgeable scientists around the world were skeptical. There is a reason that, until recently, The Guinness Book of World Records introduced its section on longevity with the warning: "No single subject is more obscured by vanity, deceit, falsehood and deliberate fraud than the extremes of human longevity." Currently, the longest fully documented and irrefutably authenticated age ever reached by a human being is 122, by a Frenchwoman named Jeanne Louise Calment.