Friday, January 20, 2012
'Healthy At 100: How you can - at any age - Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and Your Health Span' by John Robbins
"The myths and stereotypes we have about old age are so deeply entrenched in American society that they can insinuate themselves into our psyches without our ever knowing what they are. It is difficult to escape the messages that our culture sends about the aging process. From birthday cards that decry the advance of age to the widespread use of demeaning language about the elderly - ("geezer" "old fogey" "Old Maid" "Dirty old man" "old Goat" etc.) to the lack of positive images of the elderly in ads and on television programs, each of us is continually imbued with feelings of aversion to those who are old." - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'
"I do take heart though from the fact that modern western culture is not the only way people can live, and it’s prevailing assumptions are not the only way people can think" - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'
I am a big fan of John Robbins. Both "Diet For a New America" and "Food Revolution" are brilliant pieces of literature that are extremely well researched. Robbins is definitely one of the leading voices in both the health and vegan community. So when I discovered his book "Healthy at 100: How you can - at any age - Dramatically Increase Your Life Span and Your Health Span" I was very eager to read it. The name alone caught my attention, Healthy at 100 is a concept that for most of us I think seems unrealistic. However I don’t think it’s all that crazy to imagine myself as a healthy centenarian, in full control of all of my faculties and fully capable of enjoying the life I’ve always had.
For most people in the western world however the words ‘old age’ are synonymous with decline. We live in a society that treasures youth and beauty, and feels disgusted by age. We live in a culture that perpetuates ageist stereotypes, such as old people unable to do anything for themselves. We consider it normal to continue to rapidly decline as we get older, when in fact this doesn’t have to be the case. Many of us - young people in particular - view aging as a fate worse then death, and we shouldn’t.
In his book John Robbins lays to rest many of the ageist stereotypes that we’ve always grown up with. He points out the ridiculousness of how we perceive age and aging and debunks many common myths surrounding old age. However he also points out that the tragedy of our culture here in the west is our complete lack of respect for the aged, and our total compliance in allowing ourselves to decline as we age simply because it’s ‘what’s always been.’ It was these parts of the book that I found particularly interesting because here he explores the psychology behind how the average westerner sees aging compared to how aging is viewed in other cultures around the world. In many cultures spanning the glob from South America all the way to Asia it’s true that the older you are the more respect you receive. Age is seen as a triumph and a virtue, and the elderly in these cultures are revered, they would never consider themselves somehow incapable simply because they are ‘old.’
"The consequences of ageism are similar to those associated with discrimination against other groups. People who are subjected to prejudice and intolerance often internalize the dominant groups negative image and then behave in ways that conform to their negative image. Thus older people often hold ageist views about their contemporaries, about those who are slightly older then they are, and even about their own worth" - John Robbins 'Healthy at 100'
In addition to debunking the myths of age, Robbins focus’s the book on four very different cultures credited with producing the worlds healthiest oldest people, deeply exploring just how exactly these cultures have been able to remain in perfect health even at an advanced age, often exceeding 100. Those he focuses on are the Abkhasians in the Caucasus south of Russia, the Vilcabambans in the South American Andes, the Hunzans of Pakistan, and the Japanese of Okinawa. Through his extensive research of these varying cultures Robbins discovers that they all have something in common. Diet, Lifestyle and Attitude.
All four of these cultures consume diets of whole foods, no processed fair and their diets are for the most part plant-based. Containing little to no meat, and little to no dairy products. Their traditional diets are also relatively low in sugar, salt, fat, and oil, and consist almost entirely of vegetation that is both local and seasonal. Their lifestyles are also very active. While they may not engage in rigorous exercise regimes like we do here in the west, they are active in many other ways. People in these cultures walk a lot, they participate in communal work, organization, and farming. They work in their own personal gardens, play with their children and regularly engage in outdoor activity. Many people from these cultures would think nothing of walking 2 miles just to visit a friend. As far as their attitude goes they perceive aging as a happy process. They look forward to their golden years rather then dread them as people in western cultures do. They also have strong familial bonds and have lifelong connections with friends. They suffer less stress, and it’s not because they’re lives are less difficult, it’s because they take a positive attitude towards life, and tend not to fret about things that are out of their control. Stress and loneliness in Robbins opinion - and I’m inclined to agree - can kill a person just as quickly as smoking or an unhealthy diet.
"From our culture we learn what is expected of us, and to a considerable extent we then often conform to those expectations. When the prevailing image of aging expects older people to be asexual, intellectually rigid, forgetful, and invisible many elderly people will take on these characteristics even though doing so may run counter to the way they had previously lived their lives." - John Robbins ' 'Healthy at 100'
I not only found the chapters concerning these cultures completely captivating but also inspiring and uplifting. Here in the west we have so few positive association with age that it was great to be able to read about people in their 90's, or early 100's walking, running, and/or hiking miles per day. To read about 90 and 100 year olds still happily working either in their community or at actual jobs is inspiring. This is not something we see in North America. If people in our society even make it to 90 they are very often immobile and in nursing homes, hell it’s more and more common in our culture these days to see people in their 70's in that state. We consider the 90 year old grandma that lives on her own, and walks everyday to the grocery store an exception to the rule in our society when in fact - as is proven by these cultures - it should be the rule!
Through this book John Robbins has shown that getting older doesn’t have to be scary or something to dread, but rather it should be viewed upon as an opportunity. An opportunity to educate others and to show people that age doesn’t have to mean decline if you don’t want it to. Through this book Robbins imparts on us the tools we need to live healthy, joyous lives of meaning and longevity. With an emphasis on a simple whole foods diet, a manageable daily exercise routine, the cultivation of strong loving personal relationships and a positive attitude and outlook. With this book as our guide we can easily make our later years a period of wisdom, vitality, and happiness. We can at any age be productive members of society and our community, and we do not have to fall into the death trap of ageist stereotypes simply because that’s how it’s always been for us.
"Ageism represents a prejudice against a group that all people will inevitably join if they live long enough. As a result an ideology that equates aging with deterioration steals hope from everyone and from every stage of our lives" - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'
I highly recommend this book, as much for it’s well researched information as for it’s efforts to shift the cultural norms and common perceptions of aging.
"It remains an indisputable fact that in Hunzans as in Abkhasians and Vilcabambans, a large proportion of elder citizens have retained their faculties, remained vigorous and enjoyed life right up until only weeks or months before their deaths. It is an established fact that the elderly in each of these regions have had extremely low rates of heart disease, cancer, obesity, arthritis, asthma, dementia and the other degenerative infirmities that plague so many older people in the west. It is a fact that they have remained for the most part remarkably fit and active as they age" - John Robbins - 'Healthy at 100'
*** Note - Image found using Google Image search***