By Richard J. Anthony, Sr. | Dr. Roger Landry reveals ancient secrets to a happier, healthier, and longer Third Act of Life |
World-renowned physician, researcher, and lecturer Dr. Roger Landry is on a mission to change the way America regards its aging population and the way older adults see themselves. In his new book, Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging, Dr. Landry exhorts older adults to rediscover the core elements for health and aging bequeathed to us by our distant ancestors.
The following interview with Dr. Landry took place November 2013, at GRAND Magazine’s inaugural GRANDparents American Expo in Orlando, Florida.
In which section of the Wall Street Journal or New York Times does the subject of successful aging most appropriately belong?
Given the impact and implications of more than 79 million aging baby boomers, stories and commentary about successful aging belong in every section of all news media. As a nation and as a society, we have an enormous stake in supporting healthy aging by providing incentives that encourage preventive lifestyles. Decades of focusing primarily on treating illness has put us on track for a financial catastrophe.
What is your key thesis about aging?
We have the capacity to grow as long as we have a pulse. We should not accept a future of decline only — whether physically, intellectually, socially, or spiritually. Decline may come in one area, but we can always influence it and grow in another area. Now, what does it take to grow and thrive? We have been preceded by 100,000 generations. For about 98% of human existence, we have lived in groups and behaved as social beings bound together for safety and survival, moving often, being socially connected, having a higher purpose, and eating off the land. Yet, much of that has become less common in our fast-moving, high-tech world — resulting in very high levels of stress, which produces ill health and aging.
What is authentic health?
Authentic health is merely a state of genuine vitality consistent with our human origins and individual nature. Basically, our ancestors survived because of certain traits. Even though we live in an entirely different world than they did, we still have those traits and the needs that go with them in order to be healthy. When we are being authentic to the core of our human needs and not allowing ourselves to be distracted by the latest health fad or claim for miraculous transformation of our bodies and minds, we thrive. Those needs are movement, social connection, purpose, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and a mindfulness that can reduce killer levels of stress.
Why do you underscore the importance of connecting to children?
Becoming a grandfather was a spiritual experience for me. I had a profound sense of being part of an ancient, reoccurring, and soulful human drama — another connection in the circle of life that goes back millions of years. On a more practical level, children help to reduce stress and build confidence in a shared future. They help rekindle the vitality and optimism of our youth.
You write that aging successfully has three characteristics: (1) Maintain physical and cognitive factions, (2) Minimize the risk of disease and disability, and (3) Stay engaged. Common sense. Why do people have to be admonished to do the obvious?
I think people have to be reminded rather than admonished. When we do pay attention to our physical, intellectual, social, and spiritual self, we feel good. But in our current world, we can easily be diverted and then feel we have to “change” to be healthy again. We also have this erroneous idea that any change has to be dramatic or it’s not valued — for example, New Year’s resolutions. That perceived requirement for big change either holds us back or makes us give up on changing.
Take your time. Be gentle. Go for small adjustments toward these three things.
What is most toxic to people as they age?
Two things in particular are toxic to successful aging. First, a limited expectation of what’s possible with aging. Expect decline and it’ll most likely be a self-fulfilling thing.
Second, the poison that stress brings to our lives, health, and aging has reached epidemic proportions in our society. The stress response was necessary for our ancestors to survive life-threatening challenges. Today, we rarely face such challenges, but our pace of life, our chattering minds, and our lack of mindfulness of the natural world around us have us living with chronic, destructive stress of our own making.
Both these toxins can be minimized, even eliminated. The Ten Tips section of my book provides the way.
What is Masterpiece Living, and how did it come about?
Masterpiece Living is about maximizing our potential and aging in a better way. We work with communities of all types to build environments where growth is the core of the culture. It all started with a challenge from Jonas Salk to apply what the MacArthur Foundation had discovered about aging in a better way. Masterpiece Living is doing just that, and we are clearly part of a movement to smash the stereotype of aging as decline only, and to rediscover the major role that older adults can play in our society. In the end, we want all to live long and die short.