The goal of this blog has always been to help educate on both training and diet, along with other ideas, tips and hacks for a happy, healthy, physically fit way of life. Topics I haven’t talked much about are the value of friendships and what is a real silent villain in the story: stress.
We know stress is bad. We know modern living, for the most part, is not helping. For some, depending on their circumstances, choice of vocation, etc., it’s making it worse. At this point you would have to be living under a rock to also not know that as connected as we are digitally with social media, many have never been, or felt, so alone.
I was in the sauna a couple days ago (I have a great new routine at work now, but that is for another post). One of our members is originally from the Dominican Republic, but has been in Boston for 20-plus years now. His name is Pedro, and he is a warm, friendly lad in his early 50s, and as he enters, I take the opportunity to practice what little Spanish I can still speak from my Puerto Rico days to say hello and ask him how he and his family are doing.
“Buenos días, señor! Cómo estás? Cómo está la familia?”
Pedro: “Not so good today.”
Me: “Oh no, señor, I am sorry to hear that. How come?”
Pedro: “My father passed away yesterday. I will be flying tomorrow to go back to be there.”
Me: “Ah! I am really sorry to hear that. May I ask how old he was?”
Pedro: “We think he was 112 years old. But he might have been older.”
Me and the Lad sitting beside me: 112! What was he doing!?
Pedro: “He might be older because back then, some tax laws in the DR forced many to delay in getting their children their birth certificates. Many wouldn’t get one until they were almost teenagers.”
Us: “So… wait. He could be older?! Can we ask what he ate?!”
Pedro: “Dominican food, I guess.” (Dominicans consume a lot of rice and beans and fried food. It is delicious, but not necessarily what I would be advertising as the way to go. But they also consume a lot of fresh fruit and coconut and generally consume far less processed food.)
Me and the other lad: “What else was he doing?”
There is a glint in Pedro’s eyes: “My father loved women! With him and my mom, I am the youngest of 6. From a previous wife, 18.”
Me and the Lad: “……Wow…. that’s a lot of kids!”
Pedro: “Yes, and we all have children and many of them have children, and so on.”
Me: “So, he’s like a great-great-great-grandfather.”
Pedro: “Yes, many grandchildren visit him all the time.”
Me and the lad: “What else was he doing?!”
Pedro: “You know the game, Dominos? Very popular where I grew up.”
Us: “Yeah, we’ve heard of it.”
Pedro: “Well, he played that with his friends every afternoon. He’d have to walk 5 kilometers into town to play, and then after he played and enjoyed his cigar and some wine, he’d walk back. You see, I am Mormon. I don’t drink. I also don’t smoke, but my father, he loves the good tobacco and the Mama Juana.”
“But many of us were concerned about him walking because it can be so dangerous there.”
You think the drivers where you are from are crazy here in North America? In other places, they are nuts! I’ve seen it! So, I could believe it when he said that their drivers are not punished the same way, if at all, so as pedestrians you must be very aware and careful not to get hit when crossing.
I will spare you all the science because there is already so much of it out there and many studies have been done on these key topics, but after hearing this story, I was able to look at the young guy next to me and say, “This guy was doing a lot of things right!”
We gave Pedro our condolences one more time and wished a safe flight as he left the sauna to get on with his day. But I did look at the lad and say, “Wow… his father was doing a lot of things right, and really enjoying himself.”
There is something, when it comes to enjoying a long, healthy life that, by far, has proven to be the key: a very robust and enjoyable social life. He played Dominos every day with his buddies and he had a whole host of children and grandchildren always visiting. He faced death on the road every day, which means he had to keep his wits about him; be in the moment and be very aware of his surroundings. He walked 10 kilometers every day, which would have been low impact, but it kept him moving and active. Remember, if you don’t use it, you lose it! He always moved. He also clearly was having a lot of sex in his life, and I don’t have to go into the details of how beneficial that is and how sex deprived we, in the west, are (and it shows).
He also had very little stress. We know what stress does to us, and I have written in the past about how exercise and meditation (especially meditation) helps mitigate and reduce it effects. It certainly helps when you are retired, but he allowed himself the pleasures of life without going to excess. He was not a pack or two-pack-a day-smoker of cigarettes, nor an alcoholic. He enjoyed quality tobacco and a couple glasses of his Mama Juana. We also know walking and movement helps produce BDNF in our brains, which helps us feel good. And while we are on the subject about juices in the brain, family and friends, and having that sense of belonging and kinship, produces all kinds of the feel-good juices in our brain (oxytocin and dopamine, to name the big ones).
Across the board, what researchers find when they look at centurions from around the world, is that centurions have these very simple things in common: they love, and are loved. They laugh. They enjoy themselves. They love life.
I don’t think you need a PhD in clinical psychology to realize what was Pedro’s father’s very non-secret-secret to what was clearly a long, joyful life.