Unlocking Happiness, Cardiovascular Health, and Longevity
God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by a process of subtraction.
Meister Eckhart, sermon on Romans 8:18
While the United Nations and most scientists consider any age beyond 60 as old age, it’s important to recognize that aging varies for each person. Some individuals may feel elderly and frail at 60, while others are still vibrant and healthy. Numerous factors influence the pace of aging – some accelerate it, while others decelerate it.
The global population of individuals aged 65 and older is increasing at a faster rate compared to other age groups. Based on data from the 2019 Revision of the World Population Prospects, it is projected that by the year 2050, approximately one in six people around the world will be aged 65 or above (16%), which is an increase from the ratio of one in eleven observed in 2019 (9%).
Aging Explained, According to the WHO
The World Health Organization states, “At the biological level, aging results from the impact of the accumulation of a wide variety of molecular and cellular damage over time. This leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, a growing risk of disease, and, ultimately, death. These changes are neither linear nor consistent and are only loosely associated with a person’s age in years. The diversity seen in older age is not random.”
Nature Versus Nurture: The Role of Genes Versus Environment in Aging and Exceptional Longevity
Gerontologists frequently refer to studies involving identical twins raised separately to illustrate the genetic and environmental aspects of aging. Based on these studies, their consensus is that the factors contributing to differences in aging are influenced around 70-80% by environmental factors and 20-30% by genetics. Additionally, research on specific groups of people known for longevity—including Seventh Day Adventists—provides more understanding of how lifestyle and environment affect the aging process.
The shared characteristics among healthier, longer-lived individuals are that they are optimistic, are religious and spiritual, and generally have healthy diets and lifestyles. More specifically, they often follow a plant-based diet (80-85% vegetarian), avoid smoking, and prioritize spending quality time with their family and friends.
Contrarily, a significant number of Americans do the opposite. This includes consuming excessive amounts of meats and processed foods, living sedentary lifestyles, and smoking. The typical American lifestyle is estimated to reduce lifespan by 8-10 years. The lesson of studies on Seventh Day Adventists reveals that the average American has the genetic potential to reach their mid-late 80s, and to achieve this requires making the proper lifestyle choices.
Why do we keep making life and healthy living so complicated?
Confucius said, “The way out is through the door. Why is it that no one will use this method?”
Biological Age versus Chronological Age
Chronological age is the number of years you’ve been alive, whereas biological age refers to how old your cells and tissues are based on physiological evidence.
Many people dread aging because there’s a widespread notion that aging is a downhill slide into physical and mental infirmity. In a desperate attempt to avoid any sign of aging, there is a growing area of medicine referred to as “anti-aging.” Although I am supportive of the concept of aging healthfully, I do not support the use of pharmaceuticals, including hormone replacement therapy. Despite being marketed as “bioidentical” to convince people that they are safe and natural, I want to emphasize that these hormones are not without risks or consequences.
I am guided by Ben Franklin’s brilliant quote: “A place for everything, and everything its’ place.” While there could be individuals who may benefit from drug or hormone treatments, I strongly believe that the foundation of health is rooted in herbal remedies, nutrition, dietary choices, lifestyle therapies, and spiritual nourishment. This foundation for health offers the ideal synergistic approach for enhancing health optimization as we grow older.
The Negative Effects of Stress
A significant number of people suffer overwhelmingly high levels of stress. This is evident in the increasing rates of suicide as well as deaths stemming from despair due to alcohol use or drug use as a coping mechanism. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests, Americans were identified as some of the most stressed citizens in the world.
Examining health and healing through a bio-regulatory network lens reveals that the most effective support is characterized by a gentle, slow, and mostly non-specific (global) approach. This approach builds robustness and improves the ability of our innate “Life Force” to auto-regulate at the molecular, cellular, and organ system levels.
Rather than using the term “anti-aging,” I prefer “Graceful Aging” or “Aging Gracefully,” to be more fitting. These terms highlight the potential beauty, wisdom, and spiritual development of our unique life journey and our connectedness to everything – even Sister Death. Our relationship with God is connected to our relationship with each other and our recognition of Earth’s sacredness.
Increasing evidence suggests that old age has the potential to bring about happiness, intellectual and creative fulfillment, and even a more enriched love life.
“The power of God is hardwired and built-in at every point of nature. It can be found most directly in the hearts of humanity.”
Anxiety Amplifies the Risk of Cognitive Impairment
Research shows that anxiety amplifies the risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in cognitively unimpaired people with elevated amyloid beta. While amyloid deposits raised the risk of MCI independently, there was a significant additive interaction between amyloid and anxiety.
“This study has both scientific and public health importance from a scientific standpoint. The study showed that amyloid protein deposition in a cognitively normal elderly person—70 years and older—is associated with new-onset mild cognitive impairment after about 3 to 5 years. Additionally, if the person has anxiety, the risk of developing MCI is further amplified.”
Managing anxiety in old age with physical activity and social support may decrease a person’s risk of MCI.
“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing every dies.”
Optimism, Hope, and Kindness are the Keys to Happiness, Cardiovascular Health, and Longevity, not Medications
In diverse spiritual traditions, it is the heart, not the brain, that guides the enlightened soul. Those things that fill the heart with joy, passion, awe, and harmony are the ambrosia that nourish life force.
Recent studies indicate that being optimistic might be the single best way to improve health and live a long life. In an analysis of 15 studies, optimism was associated with a 35% lower risk of cardiovascular events and a 14% lower risk of mortality. Another recent study suggests that optimism is associated with exceptional longevity.
It is now well established that there is an association between negative emotions (anger, trauma), sociocultural factors, chronic stress, and the development of heart problems. Much less is known about the potential impact of mental attitude on cardiovascular risk, however, there has been a significant increase in research on this topic in recent years.
Optimism is a mindset marked by the belief good things will happen, or by the sense that the future will be favorable to us, and therefore we can effectively manage significant challenges. In empirical studies, optimism has been associated with greater success in school, work, sports, politics, and interpersonal relationships.
Studies have reported that optimistic people are less likely than pessimists to suffer from chronic disease or premature death. For example, in a large prospective study, published in a prestigious scientific journal involving more than 6,000 people, the most optimistic participants were 48% less likely to have heart failure than the least optimistic. Not just optimism as a positive mental attitude, but kindness, gratitude, indulgence, and psychosocial factors other than pessimism, such as depression, anxiety, chronic stress, social isolation, and low self-esteem, can also affect the risk of developing a chronic disease.
A meta-analysis of 15 studies published in 2019, including 229,391 participants, examined the association between optimism and cardiovascular events or all-cause mortality. After an average follow-up of 13.8 years, optimism was associated with a 35% lower risk of cardiovascular events and a 14% lower risk of mortality. In 12 of the 15 studies included in this meta-analysis, there was a linear relationship between the participants’ level of optimism and the decrease in the risk of cardiovascular events.
Optimism and Longevity
In a study published in 2019 comparing two separate cohorts of men and women, it was revealed that optimism is associated with exceptional longevity (≥85 years) The data analyzed originated from two sources: the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study (NAS) which spanned 30 years of follow-up and the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS), which involved a follow-up period of 10 years.
The most optimistic women in this study (top quintile) had an average lifespan of 14.9% longer than the least optimistic women (bottom quintile). Similar results were obtained for men: the most optimistic had a lifespan of 10.9% longer on average. The most optimistic participants were 1.5 times (women) and 1.7 times (men) more likely to live to age 85 than the least optimistic participants. These associations are independent of socioeconomic status, health status, depression, social integration, and health behaviors (e.g., smoking, diet, alcohol consumption).
Pessimism is associated with poor health and increased coronary heart disease (CHD). According to a 2015 study, participants who developed coronary heart disease during the ten-year follow-up were significantly more pessimistic at baseline than the other subjects.
Using multivariate logistic regression models separately for men and women, researchers noted no elevated risk for CHD in the pessimistic women compared to the non-pessimistic women. However, among men in the highest quartile of pessimism, the risk for CHD was approximately four-fold that of the men in the lowest quartile. Optimism did not seem to have any role in the risk of developing CHD.
Because a person’s level of optimism can be modified, these findings imply that optimism could serve as a significant psychosocial tool for interventions aimed at preventing or delaying heart disease and extending the lives of older people.
All Things New
“All Things New” is the name of a new song I just wrote and recorded. It will be on my next album called “Cosmic Force.” More than ever, I am certain that our hearts need to sing the melody of the deep music within.
Father Richard Rohr recently wrote, “We are made for transcendence and endless horizons, but our small ego usually gets in the way until we become aware of its petty preoccupations and eventually seek a deeper truth. It is like mining for a diamond. We must dig deep; and yet we seem reluctant, even afraid, to do so.”
When we find our true self within, we find the Divine, yet we are still ourselves. Rohr goes on to say “For all practical purposes, this change of identity from the separate self to the connected and True Self is the major—almost seismic—shift in motivation and consciousness itself that mature religion rightly calls conversion. It is the very heart of all religious transformation (“changing forms”). Without it, religion is mostly a mere belonging system or a mere belief system, but it does not radically change our consciousness or motivation.” This is where we see everything through our inner Divine Self, which is ONE with all.
For Jesus says: “He who seeks only himself brings himself to ruin, whereas he who brings himself to nothing for my sake discovers who he is.” (MT. 10:38) To bring oneself to nothing–NO THING–is to cease to identify with the tyranny of our emotional programs for happiness and the limitations of our cultural conditioning.
A Range of Kindness Activities Boosts Happiness and Longevity
Kindness and caring are prosocial behaviors that build positive interpersonal connections that uplift both the giver and receiver. Kindness and caring elevate the individual and the society as a whole, promoting generosity, interpersonal connection, and inclusion. These actions are contagious!
Researchers conducted a study to examine whether performing various types of acts of kindness produced varying impacts on happiness. A recent comprehensive review and meta-analysis of the psychological effects of kindness revealed that performing acts of kindness boosts happiness and overall well-being. The findings suggest that performing acts of kindness over a span of seven days increases happiness. Moreover, there was a positive correlation between the number of kind deeds and the subsequent increase in happiness levels.
Increasing evidence suggests that helping others has beneficial health effects for the helper. According to a 2018 meta-analysis, doing nice things for others effectively enhances well-being. Furthermore, a 2017 study found that people who occasionally served as voluntary caregivers to others lived longer than individuals who did not engage in caregiving activities.
Choosing Optimism and Hope over Fear
Many things in life can provoke anxiety or fear. But it’s important to realize that we have the power to select what we focus on. Fear is perhaps the most significant barrier that can hinder our path to a healthy life.
“The wish to control floats like a buoy above the hidden reef of fear. More than any single thing, fear is the stumbling block to life’s agenda. Perhaps it is only the things we fear that we wish to control. No one can serve life if they are unconsciously afraid of life.”
~“The Gray Zone” by Rachel Naomi Remen
Rather than living in fear, we have the ability to cultivate both optimism and hope. Pope Francis speaks of optimism and hope in the following way:
“It is useful not to confuse optimism and hope. Optimism is a psychological attitude to life. Hope goes further; it is an anchor thrown to the future, which allows one to pull on its rope to arrive at the goal one longs for, by using our effort to move in the right direction. In addition, hope is theological: God is there in the middle of it. For all these reasons, I believe that life is going to triumph.”
When anxiety and fear, whether personal concerns or global issues, overtake your mind, remember that you have a choice. Instead of sinking into despair, opt to cultivate optimism, express gratitude, assist others, and practice kindness. I can assure you, that taking one positive step will naturally lead to another, and every positive action you take will enrich your life and enhance your health and sense of well-being. Your positive actions will radiate outward to benefit all living beings.
About the Author:
Donald R. Yance is the founder of the Mederi Center. A Clinical Master Herbalist and Certified Nutritionist, Donnie is renowned for his extraordinary knowledge and deep understanding of the healing properties of plants and nutrition, as well as of epigenetics, laboratory medicine, oncologic pathology, and molecular oncology. He is a professional member of the American Herbalists Guild, National Association of Nutrition Professionals, Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, and the Society for Integrative Oncology.
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 There is emerging evidence that helping others has beneficial health effects for the helper
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