Saturday, September 19, 2009

Resiliency Tips from the 100+ Crowd

With so many tragic deaths in Hollywood the past few months, Billy Joel's song, "Only the Good Die Young" never seemed more poignant. Watching Patrick Swayze and Farrah Fawcett lose their public battles with cancer makes me wonder - what is the secret to living a long life? What are the tricks from those who beat Father Time at his own game? This week I decided to explore the "centenarians" - people living to be over 100 years old, for clues to resiliency and joie de vivre. Last week, the world's oldest living person, Gertrude Baines, died in Los Angeles, at age 115. She was a lesson in resiliency, and should be considered a national treasure.

Baines was born in 1894, and grew up in Georgia- the daughter of a slave, and lived under Grover Cleveland's administration, and Jim Crow segregation laws. I am sure she has seen hardships that make the recession and the health care debate look like a walk in the park. She received her 15 minutes of fame when she voted for Barack Obama for president. On her 115th birthday, her greatest health complaint was some arthritis in her left knee.

While her story is amazing, Gertrude's status as "supercentenarian"- being over 110, is going to become more and more common, as living to be 100+ is not longer reserved for the select few. With our medical advances, the number of centenarians is expected to reach the one million mark by 2030. 85% of our centenarians are women, and 15% are men.

According to the New Scientist, those who break through the barrier of age 90 are the "physically elite." They somehow escape a full range of diseases that kill off their peers, and enjoy relatively good health. Only 4 per cent of centenarians die of cancer, compared with 40 per cent of people that die in their fifties and sixties. Curiously, centenarians have remarkably low rates of Alzheimer's.

Supercentenarians - people like Gertrude Baines, who are aged 110 or over - are even better examples of aging gracefully.
"As a demographic group, they basically didn't exist in the 1970s or 80s," says Craig Willcox of the Okinawa Centenarian Study in Japan. "They have some sort of genetic booster rocket and they seem to be functioning better for longer periods of time than centenarians."

A comprehensive study of those born in 1905 who are still alive, showed over one third of them were entirely self sufficient. The New England Centenarian Study (NECS) showed that even the supercentenarians - 40% of them, are able to look after themselves even after age 110. Clearly with so many "eldest of the old" managing on their own for nearly a century, one of the keys to resiliency is independence.

Gerontologists point to four key factors for living a long life: diet, exercise, "psycho-spiritual" and social as key elements to survival. Thomas Perls, who heads the NECS, believes that up to 70 per cent of longevity is due to non-genetic factors (New Scientist, 3 June 2006, p 35). The old fashioned ways; simple foods, faith in a higher power, and close friends, will take us a lot farther down the road than promotions at work.

According to the National Centenarian Awareness project: resilient Centenarians are known to have positive attitudes, an adventurous love of life, strong will, a keen sense of humor and an ability to renegotiate life when necessary. It is not enough to rely on good genes, or good circumstances, to enjoy a long and happy life. Often these elders withstood tremendous adversity, and learned positive coping skills that set them apart from the rest.

Here are a few "Resiliency Tips" for any age:

* Never Stop Learning and Growing -
- engage the mind by reading books, doing the NYTimes crossword puzzle or make a goal to learn a new hobby every year. Life long learning is one of the highest valued elements of resilient people.

* Eat the Old Fashioned Way- very few, if any centenarians were ever obese, and most are accustomed to hard physical activity. Eat foods that are unprocessed as much as possible.

* Be a Doer and not a Complainer- Help a friend, take that class, and take small steps forward every day to manage a challenge. That stubborn attitude keeps the dangerous tide pool of complacency at bay.

* Simple Pleasures- Hobbies are not just moments of wasted time - leisure is vital to our health. Whether it is woodworking, knitting or bird-watching, the simple pleasures is time well spent.

* Well, Um, Sex!- My father-in-law is 101. One of his only medical maladies is a benign condition that makes his hands shake- making it difficult to hold a cup or small objects. When offered medication to help correct this problem, his doctor explained the usual list of side effects. One of them was erectile dysfunction. Needless to say, he refused the medication - and my 87 year-old-mother-in-law nodded her head in absolute agreement. An active sex life is a blessing and a gift you can take to the grave, baby.

Do you have any "wise elders" in your life, or know any centenarians? What are their special qualities that contribute to their longevity? Love to hear your stories. Feel free to click on the "Become a Fan" to receive weekly updates of this column, and you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Taking Back Labor Day- a "Lost Decade" for Youth

Labor Day has lost its luster as a holiday. First celebrated on September 5, 1882 in New York City, the day consisted of a parade and celebrations to exhibit "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations." Now the holiday has been downgraded to back yard barbecues and end of the summer getaways. The question is: who is resting on Labor Day? Certainly 15 million American's aren't taking the day off- because they don't have job, as "real unemployment" rates have climbed to 16.8%.

Many of the older generation aren't resting on Labor Day. They can't afford to quit their jobs and retire. And, according to new data, our youth aren't resting either. Nearly one in three workers under age 35 will be laboring on Labor Day, and almost half of them are working more than 40 hours per week. A full 50% do not have family leave time, at an age most likely to be growing a new family, 40% do not have sick leave and 33% don't have any vacation time at all. (AFL/CIO, 2009). Not much "esprit de corp" to celebrate this year.

These grim statistics, and many more, were released in a landmark report called, "Young Workers A Lost Decade" conducted in July 2009 by Peter D. Hart Research Associates for the AFL-CIO and their affiliate Working America. The nationwide survey of 1,156 people follows up on a similar survey the AFL-CIO conducted in 1999.

The survey states; "young workers, (in 1999), were economically insecure, concerned about deteriorating job quality, distrustful of corporate America--and yet stubbornly hopeful about the future. Ten years later, the change is shocking. The status of young workers not only has not improved; its dramatic deterioration is threatening to redefine the norm in job standards. Income, health care, retirement security and confidence in being able to achieve their financial goals are down across the board. Only economic insecurity is up."

An astounding one third of workers age 35 and under live at home with their parents - because they cannot afford housing on their own. Our best and brightest are frozen in place, while simultaneously running in circles. Many can't afford to go to college, yet, those who do have upper level degrees can't find jobs in their field, and are overwhelmed with student loans. Workers age 35 and under can't afford health care, can't get ahead, or save for the future.

AFL/CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka summed up the report's findings this way:
"We're calling the report "A Lost Decade" because we're seeing 10 years of opportunity lost as young workers across the board are struggling to keep their heads above water and often not succeeding. They've put off adulthood--put off having kids, put off education--and a full 34 percent of workers under 35 live with their parents for financial reasons."

Check out this short You Tube video clip of young professionals most affected by the economy speaking their minds:

The findings from this study are significant, and deeply distressing. The days of securing a job as a bank teller or in sales; settling down, buying a house and starting a family are over. The upcoming generation will emerge as the first to be worse off than their parents, and something must be done.

I have written previously about how the United States is one of the few countries that does not mandate paid vacation time for workers. We give a nod to Labor Day, but we do not believe in it. Stress related illnesses from our overworked population are the greatest burden on health care, but we do not support any measures for prevention. We complain to our government to fix our problems, but we don't eat properly, exercise and meditate - what's wrong with us anyway?

On Labor Day, while it is important to rest our bodies, we cannot rest in our determination to change the climate and opportunities in the work force. We cannot put our heads in the beach sand and ignore the far reaching implications of the "Lost Decade". It is exactly the fire, imagination and energy of our nation's young professionals that will carry us into a new era of prosperity.

While the outlook looks pretty grim for this bunch, there is a bright side to this group- they are incredibly resilient, creative and interested in service. Our working class, age 35 and under are unusually politically active - at the polls and in civic affairs, and are resoundingly optimistic President Obama can help turn things around for them to move forward as future leaders.

If we can give our youth a little room - they can get the job done. Let's look at the health care reform issue from their perspective. While the politicians are punting sound bytes like Hail Mary's, check out a creative approach in the "SuperMom Healthcare Truth Squad." Picture a bunch of young women donning bright red capes and flocking in major cities across the nation to distribute information about why health care reform will help bring economic security to the nation. Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, founder of writes,
"why do moms care (about health care reform?) Not only are families struggling with getting children the healthcare coverage they need for a healthy start, but 7 out of 10 women are either uninsured, underinsured, or are in significant debt due to healthcare costs."

Julia Moulden writes about the "New Radicals" who are making money - and making a mark on the world, through social change and empowering disadvantaged workers world wide. Recently, she highlighted a new "30-something" company that helps fund entrepreneurial projects, via mini pledges instead of investors, called Kickstarter.

The original Labor Day was born in during the peak of the Industrial Revolution as a backlash to workers being on the job 12 hours a day, 7 days a week in order to make a basic living. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Let's take back Labor Day for the purpose it was created, and address the basic worker's rights to a decent paying job, health benefits, paid leave time and a positive work environment in which to thrive. And, yes, let's remember to Rest.