Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Lessons of the Super-Elderly

"Want to live to 100?" asks Jewish Home resident Edna Shankman, 95. "Choose your parents carefully!"

While it doesn't hurt to have family members who are living to 90-plus (or to have a great sense of humor), over a decade of research reveals that healthy lifestyle choices are the prime factor in determining who will be winners in the ultimate lottery.

Jewish Home resident Eli Persky, 93
The longest lived among us, the 'super-elderly,' are still a unique group. They evoke curiosity, fascination and even national pride. Everyone is eager to learn their strategies for successful living. (Wikipedia maintains an entire page about the world's oldest people that is updated daily.) Ask almost anyone if they would like to join this exclusive club, and you'll probably get the same answer: "Yes, if a high quality of life can be maintained."

The good news is that it can, and that more and more of us will become members of the "100+ Club" in the decades to come.

More Good News

Research shows that, where longevity is concerned, most of us are in the driver's seat. That's because lifestyle choices, in combination with genetics, are the dominant factors in how long each of us will live.

A healthy diet is a vital component, especially one with an abundance of antioxidants like those contained in certain fruits, vegetables, and even red wines. But it turns out that there is an even more significant predictor.

"Exercise trumps everything," says Dr. Edward L. Schneider of USC's Andrus Gerontology Center. It's so important that it even beats weight control. "If you're overweight and exercise," Dr. Schneider says, "you'll probably live longer than someone who isn't overweight and doesn't exercise."

Daily doses of moderately strenuous exercise (like power walking) are the foundation of cardiovascular health and one path to a long and meaningful life. But no one lives long through exercise alone. Holistic wellness – in body, mind, and spirit – makes a vital contribution to every proven strategy for successful aging.

Top Recommendations of the Experts

Social Inclusion
There is nothing so important to our well-being as a sense of belonging. Studies of five areas around the world where people are extraordinarily long-lived found that seniors remained a vital part of the family dynamic and traditions. The equation is simple: when we are valued, we thrive.

Belief System
The practice of faith is valuable in many contexts. Faith can be cherished as a personal relationship with G-d. It can provide the philosophical underpinnings of our values and belief structure. It is also a supreme example of the all-important sense and practice of belonging – to a tradition, a worldview, and a people.

Daily interaction – whether in the course of work or volunteering, at mealtimes, on the phone with friends and family, or through social networking – provides stimulation for the mind and spirit. Studies show that it is rare to live a long and satisfying life without it.

Finally, a positive attitude helps make positive things happen, whether it's exercise, inclusion, social success or practicing your faith. Most importantly, optimism is one way – our best way – of saying yes to life.

What Jewish Home Residents Say

At the Jewish Home, the average age is 90, with twenty-eight residents age 100 or older, and sixteen 99-year-olds poised to hit the century mark this year. Jewish Home residents also live, on average, two to three times longer than seniors at typical residential facilities.

Talk to some of the Jewish Home's super-elderly for advice, and you get a sense of just how important a great attitude is to successful aging and a long life.

"Start each day with a smile and stay interested in everything around you," advises Eli Persky, 93. "Watch a movie, play sudoku, keep your mind active and engaged!"

"I have to stick around!" says Claire Bizar, who is 102. "Why? Because my family wants me to. Love is what keeps me going."

Morris Steinberg, 97, swears by his daily regimen of walking, weight training, and T'ai Chi. "Working out keeps me going and helps my brain."

Edna Shankman, 99, who chose her parents so carefully, emphasizes the importance of the positive attitude. "I used to be a worrier," she says, and reminds us, "But you have to learn to go with the flow." These days, she only worries about the important stuff. Like what? "Like what to wear!"

Kathleen Doheny Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based journalist who also writes for WebMD.com, healthday.com, Weight Watchers, the Los Angeles Times and other publications.

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