Live longer, healthier like this 120-year-old Varanasi monk in 5 easy steps

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 19, 2016 16:26 IST
Swami Sivananda from Varanasi has a passport that puts his age at 120! (AFP)

Swami Sivananda was born on August 8, 1896, shows his passport. If the information is correct and not a clerical error, the sprightly monk from Varanasi is 120 years old, which makes him the oldest man to have ever lived.

In India, people who cross the age of 60 live to be 77 on average, almost a decade more than the nation’s life expectancy at birth of 68 years -- brought down by high newborn and child deaths, shows World Health Organization (WHO) data.

The sprightly monk puts his longevity down to a disciplined life of yoga, no sex and a bland food. He’s right, in part. Yoga helps, as does nutritious food, but that’s not all you need to do live long. (AFP)

While Indians are living longer, they are not living healthier. Close to two in three over the age of 65 have trouble eating, bathing, dressing, getting in and out of bed, or using the toilet on their own.

How does Sivananda, then, stay active, travel alone and free of disease at 120? He puts it down to a disciplined life with two hours of yoga, no sex and a bland food.

Read: Swami Sivananda ‘oldest man ever’ says no sex, no spice, daily yoga key to age

“I eat very simply -- only boiled food without oil or spices, rice and boiled dal (lentil stew) with a couple of green chillies,” he told AFP news agency.

Sivananda is right, in part. Yoga helps as does nutritious food, but that’s not all you need to do to live long.

Here are five things that determine how long and active you will be at 80 and beyond:

1 Food

A Mediterranean diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans and peas, unrefined grains, olive oil and fish and limited amounts of dairy, meat and saturated fats not just protects your heart but also help you live longer, show research from Harvard Medical School.

Read: Mediterranean diet, regular exercise, normal BMI can cut Alzheimer’s risk

The Mediterranean diet protects telomeres that sit at the ends of your chromosomes and stop the ends from fraying. Telomere length is a biomarker of aging: Shorter telomeres are associated with a lower life expectancy and higher rates of developing chronic diseases. Telomerase can mitigate, and possibly stop, cell aging.

2 Meditation and yoga

Yoga and meditation retreat helps you live longer, global studies have shown. People who meditate regularly have on average about 30% more activity of the enzyme telomerase than people who don’t, found a study. Telomerase is responsible for repairing telomeres, which become shorter and less effective at protecting the chromosome with age.

Read: Yoga can help with back pain, anxiety and more

Meditation and yoga protect telomere length by lowering mental stress and arousal and improving hormonal factors that promote its maintenance. Yoga programmes also improve balance, provide a safe form of exercise and lowers risk of falls and injury for older people, report researchers from The George Institute for Global Health.

3 Aerobic exercise

People who walk often and briskly are far more likely to live 15 years longer than those who rarely get up and move, found a study of close to 9,000 people who were followed for 15 years. The study found that being physically active even lowered the negative health effects of other risk factors such as high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure or obesity.

Read: Aerobic exercises restore protein quality in heart failure

Much as it does with muscles, physical exercise also slows and reverses age-associated degeneration of the brain by feeding it with oxygen and nutrients that help brain cells regenerate. This helps delay age-onset dementia and diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

4 Sex and companionship

More than anti-ageing pills, hormone and vitamin supplements, you need sex and companionship to live longer. Couples who are married and are sexually active live longer than those who don’t, found a major survey of 127,545 adults. Men who marry after age 25 get more protection than those who tie the knot at a younger age, found the study, and the longer they stayed married, the longer they lived in comparison with their unmarried peers.

Read: Best of your sex life begins at 40

People living with unmarried partners also fared better than those living alone, but those living with their spouses have the best health of all.

5 Genes

If your parents live past their 70s, there’s a very high chance that you will too. We inherit our genetic code from our parents and these genes, which carry the information needed to build, maintain and repair our body and mind, collaborate with other genes, lifestyle and the environment to determine how healthy we are.

Read: Can your genes predict your future?

People with parents who live longer have lower rates of some lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers, reported a new study this week. The study found that a person’s chances of survival increased by 17% for each decade that at least one parent lived beyond the age of 70.

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