Some Thoughts on Living to 100 and Beyond

This article is part of the CelebrEighty series by Judy Katz…A well-meaning friend, knowing that I would like to live well into my 90s and hopefully perhaps even beyond, suggested I read Living in the Blue Zone by Dan Buettner.

Judy Katz

I haven’t gotten my copy yet, but living longer is something I think about a lot. Perhaps you do too. I have now read summaries and comments on this book and its author. Buettner travelled the world, interviewing nonagenarians and centenarians on their life-extending habits and lifestyles. Here’s one write-up:

Bestselling author Dan Buettner reveals how to transform your health using smart nutrition, lifestyle, and fitness habits gleaned from longevity research on the diets, eating habits, and lifestyle practices of the communities he’s identified as “Blue Zones”-those places with the world’s longest-lived, and thus healthiest, people, including locations such as Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California.

Before I read this book—or you order your copy—here’s a question: What is the value of those extra years, or even an extra decade, if you can’t wake up in the middle of the night, hearing the box of Blue Bunny miniature dark-chocolate covered ice cream cones in your freezer call out your name—and you go to answer that call? Have you even eaten at a fine restaurant and forsaken the salad or fish dish for a juicy hamburger on a brioche with all the toppings, cheese, caramelized onions, mushrooms, an onion ring, etc., while of course saying yes to the accompanying French fries? If you went for the salad or fish, who are you?

The Sherpas of Napal, when they don’t die prematurely by falling off a mountain, or some other professional hazard from their dangerous work as mountain guides and porters, live unusually long lives, surrounded by yaks, whose butter and milk they consume, not to mention yak meat—but only if the yak dies prematurely, as they are mainly vegetarians. And anyway they love their yaks.

Due to the low oxygen levels at their high altitudes, Sherpas are superhumanly energy efficient, but still a good percentage of them don’t reach beyond middle age at best because of the other factors. Look, I’m not telling you that hanging out with yaks is bad, or that carefully considering every single morsel you put into your body is bad. I’m not saying working out regularly is bad. And certainly, as Buettner tell us, interacting regularly with lots of upbeat people who love you, or even like and respect you, is good. It’s all good. But let’s get real about modern life. Some people are fortunate enough to have large extended families nearby—certainly many of the people Buettner interviewed in those countries were surrounded by generations of loved ones. Think of some of those Italian movies where you see large families at a long table sharing wine and table laden with delicious dishes, laughing and hugging and having a great old time. Notice that they’re pretty much always out in the country. For those of us living alone or with one other person in a small city apartment—we can only look longingly at such scenes, and be happy for them.

I don’t overdo it, but my Chinese takeout is unquestionably not health food. I work out, but not religiously. Sometimes I will order a pizza. Thin crust with veggies, but still: pizza! Are the pizza, the chips and dips, the Blue Bunny pops costing me some serious time on earth? Does my expiration date get shorter every time I make a non Blue Zone type choice in how I eat, how much TV I watch on the couch and how much time I spend by myself, and not sharing time with a supportive, loving group of family and friends?

Everyone has to decide for themselves what makes their life worth living. Frankly though, when the book arrives I will consider Buettner’s discoveries and advice. If there’s something I can take away that fits me I will incorporate it the best way I can. Overall though, I know I will continue to take my chances on city dangers, eclectic food choices, and alternating between working out and relaxing in. I know I could live longer if I stay in a Blue Zone. But why be blue if it’s not really you? Maybe I’m rationalizing an essential laziness. I am also not the most disciplined individual, but I’m okay with that.

How about you? Tell me how you feel about all this. Let’s yak it up.