A few weeks ago, a girlfriend and I were discussing the Nepal crisis over supper when she mentioned that her father, a top surgeon at Montreal General Hospital, was just off to Kathmandu to set up a trauma centre. “What?” I spluttered into my healthy, vegetarian meal. “Isn’t he too old?” Well, shame on me! He’s approaching 73, still working full-time (yes, spending up to 14 hours a day on his feet) and yes, still travelling to scenes of total devastation to set up trauma centres where he operates on people, in horrific working conditions, round the clock. He’s made it clear to his family he will work until he dies. No gentle golfing days, or peaceful bridge mornings, or daytime TV for him! And nor does he follow any special diet or exercise regime (although my friend assures me he eats a healthy diet with no red meat).
The following day, two of my daughters were discussing one of their teachers – a man in his eighties who chooses to spend three days a week teaching hormonal teenage girls and trains the school’s running team on his other days (and yes, he’s still running marathons. See our last post for more on running).
The connection between longevity and purpose has been shown in numerous studies. People with a clear sense of purpose have longer and healthier lives. People with a close network of family and friends (those with ‘the capacity for intimate relationships’) or those who live in supportive communities also live longer. But when I started digging, I also found those who cared live longer too. This has been beautifully articulated as ‘a strong sense of purpose… directed outward’ in an inspirational article in the Reader’s Digest. I urge you to read it http://www.readersdigest.ca/senior-health/secret-power-aging/?page=0,2#OBCvSvbbbuo4uAiH.97
Several studies have found correlations between altruism and stronger immune systems and lower levels of inflammation, as well as longevity in general. Stanford School of Medicine in the US has its own Centre for Altruism Research. You can read more about its research findings here: http://ccare.stanford.edu/psychology-today/the-best-kept-secret-to-longevity-love/
At Kale & Cocoa we feel strongly about this. We don’t necessarily want everyone to live forever so they can take more cruises (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but so that we can carry on giving something back. The next generation may well face challenges we never had to. Rather than burdening our children with a surfeit of health problems and a shortage of hospital beds, shouldn’t we look after ourselves now so that we can help out later? And while not all of us are qualified to set up trauma centres, any of us can help a local charity, a sick friend, an unloved dog (and yes, correlations between longevity and dogs have also been shown in many studies, read more here http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/live-like-royalty-the-many-health-benefits-of-dogs-mans-best-friend/253744/)
This is National Dementia Awareness Week, so I’ll conclude with a quote from Professor Andrews, an expert on the prevention of dementia: “Doing something for other people gives you a positive mental boost and sense of purpose, not to mention keeping up your skills and connecting and making friends – all of which provide the mental stimulation we need.”
We’d love to hear about any inspirational older people you know, so please leave a comment. In the meantime, as we’re all going to be very busy sharing and caring, I thought I’d share my current super-speedy recipe. Not only is it fast and delicious but it uses red cabbage – which a Cornell University study found reduces the build-up of plaque in the brain – something scientists now think causes Alzheimer’s. Red cabbage, rich in phyto-nutrients and Vitamin A, has also been linked to lower levels of inflammation and reduced rates of breast cancer. Oh – and it’s dirt-cheap…
I make a large bowl of this every week – my eldest daughter’s home on study-leave and it’s her favourite vegetable dish (which is saying something as she’s not a keen vegetable-eater at the best of times!). I leave it in the fridge and she tucks in every lunch time before wolfing down a few chocolate brainies and a slice of green tea cake.
SWEET N’SOUR RED CABBAGE SLAW
- ½ small red cabbage, finely shredded
- 4 carrots (or use apples, Jerusalem artichokes – or your favourite raw root veg.), grated
- ½ red onion, finely sliced (optional but adds extra prebiotics for your gut)
- 3 tbsp sesame seeds (black or white, dry-fried for a few minutes)
- 2 tbsp maple syrup
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar (I like brown rice vinegar but any is fine)
- 1 tsp sea salt
Mix well and serve. Great with anything!