100 candles and counting, and the secret is...

July 24, 2014

What is the secret to long life? Is it your genes, vitamins or supplements you take, or the medical care you get? Marge McFarlane, a patient of mine for 10 years, celebrated 10 decades of good living July 17. I visited her with my staff on her 100th birthday and was amazed at how independent she is at her age.

She still lives alone in her apartment, and her son Bruce keeps a close eye on her. Throughout her life she remained close to her siblings, one of whom also reached the age of 100, and her youngest sibling currently is 93. Family connections were important to her as she raised her own two sons. There is no magic bullet to longevity.

Genetics is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s what we expose those genes to that really matters.

Research has shown that relationships are key. Also, those who modulate their stress, live in the here and now, keep their minds and bodies active, and fuel themselves with good food, good air and good habits live well and longer.

To age successfully, the best things you can do are »

• Stay calm and relaxed; quiet your mind

• Work at something you love, stay curious about life and stay active in the community

• Diet and exercise play ongoing, important roles. Eat right (lots of vegetables) and walk, swim or participate in regular cardio exercise

• Social support and relationships with others really matter. Stay in touch with friends and family; develop a strong network. Adopt a household pet - they give unconditional love and support

• Enjoy! Love life, continue learning and growing; keep your life full and make memories.

Marge is a perfect example of nurturing and sustaining a strong social support system, even today. Good food was a big part of her lifestyle; she cooked three beautiful meals a day and has never eaten at McDonald’s. A hearty, petite woman, she shoveled two feet of snow in shirt sleeves and loves winter. Marge was raised a Catholic and sang many high soprano solos in the choir. She has lived a balanced life and has enjoyed every moment of it.

Sense of humor seems to be another key ingredient to longevity. Marge and her son went for pre-funeral planning, and she thought the price was high so she asked to see a child-sized casket. “It was pink, and I asked if I could see if I fit,” said Marge. She also walked everywhere since she never learned to drive. She just recently stopped her daily leg lift exercises and chuckled about doing Jack LaLanne’s tape with her sisters. “Once he called out, ‘Marge, lift your leg higher,’ and we thought he meant me,” said Marge.

The supplement industry would have us believe that certain drinks or vitamins are the key to long life, but maintaining good sleep habits and moderating our diets are much more important components. Myriads of studies have been done on the different food groups and their impact on diet and health, but none of them have been able to show that any one in particular thing makes a huge difference. My patient has never taken nutritional supplements, but she enjoys a little Mr. Boston’s Apricot Brandy daily. She still enjoys helping friends in need by preparing a special meal when she if feeling strong.

Much research is being done on islands like Okinawa about why so many inhabitants there live very well in their advanced years. Their culture supports gardening, eating off the land, sleeping late and looking out for each other. We can learn from this simplistic approach. The United States currently has the greatest number of known centenarians of any nation.

The mind is a powerful tool to making a person happy or miserable. Stress is now implicated as a cause in many diseases and illnesses. We do need to de-stress, so I am a big proponent of meditation tai chi, yoga, art or music - whatever it takes to reduce life’s burdens.

It is not important just to live long, but live a happy and healthy life. It was a wonderful day to sit beside 10 decades of wisdom and try to find the secret for longevity.

For more information about integrative medicine, call Shoreview Personalized Medical Care at 302-684-0990 or vgo to