It takes “guts and smarts” to live to 100 and still feel well, says Dr. Walter Bortz, a scientific researcher, author, geriatrician and octogenarian marathon runner. Bortz, a Stanford University professor of medicine and author of the book “Next Medicine,” wants to make it easier and more financially attractive for Americans to keep their bodies from falling into disrepair. The most important of Bortz’s 150 scientific papers, he says, came out in 1982. It differentiates physical disuse from aging, reassuring people that they can tune up their bodies to perform better and fight disease more effectively at any age.
1. Move More
Physical activity is paramount to a healthy, long life — and you can reap the benefits at any age. The opposite is also true: inactivity can be deadly, Bortz says.
After age 50, you can’t afford to be sedentary. “Exercise for young people is optional,” he says. “Exercise for old people is an imperative.”
What exactly should you do? Any number of things: Walk, run, swim, row, bike or dance, he says, “if you do it right.” That means getting your heart rate up three times a week for at least a half hour each time. Golf can be good for you, too, provided you ditch the cart and walk.
As you age, your legs become your most important organs, Bortz says. Doing balance exercises also helps you maintain the ability to continue walking into old age.
2. Own Your Self-Care
Don’t cede control to the “disease cartel,” as Bortz describes the medical industry. Be persistent in improving your health behaviors and build your competence over time. Remove any psychological barriers you may have set up.
For instance, if you hate the way your make-up runs when you exercise, don’t wear it, he says. If you can’t walk very far, make a jaunt around the block your first goal instead of a mile. And take advantage of any incentives your health plan offers to get and stay healthy.
Bortz cites the serenity prayer (“change what you can, accept what you must, but know the difference”) and the work of his friend Albert Bandura, the renowned psychologist, on self-efficacy.
The four steps to achieving self-efficacy, according to Bandura, are small steps of mastery, peer examples, social persuasion and diminishment of cues of failure.
These self-efficacy steps are crucial to helping people maintain their health and reach their potential, Bortz says. “Just like writing a prescription for penicillin, I go down my list of four.”
Of course, there are places where danger rules, making exercise low on the list of priorities. If you feel your neighborhood isn’t safe to walk around in, be creative in finding local authorities willing to address the obstacles. A few years ago, Bortz writes in his book, he and a group of medical students were surprised to find that some residents surveyed in East Palo Alto, Calif., weren’t seeking a visiting nurse or more convenient clinics. Topping their health-services wish list was better control of pit-bull dogs.
3. Stay Engaged with Life
The old maxim “make yourself useful” applies to healthy aging, Bortz says. Maintain social activity and intellectual pursuits. Fight loneliness.
4. Don’t waste Time on Anti-Aging Hoaxes
Longevity “experts” who sell vitamins aimed at helping you live longer are in the snake-oil business, Bortz says, and those who tout the potential to live 150 years or more are ignoring the second law of thermodynamics that makes such a human life expectancy impossible.