Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, no matter who you are or where you are, we're all doing the same thing -- with every tick of the tock, we're all getting older. And eventhough our individual journeys will vary from person to person, we're all on the trip of a lifetime -- an incredible journey -- where the longer you live, the more of life you experience. So imagine if you can, the trip of living 115 years as San Diego county's own Andelina Domingues is doing.
Born February 19, 1887 in the Cape Verde Islands (off west Africa), this Spring Valley resident of Brighton Place has lived in three centuries and may go into the record books as the oldest known person in the world. Currently in the process of authenticating Andelina's birth certificate, her predecessor, Maud Farris-Luse, 115, recently died of pneumonia in a Michigan hospital, so now the Guinness titleholder honor goes to Kamato Hongo of Japan, who is actually six months younger than Andelina, but whose birthdate has been documented.
Living to the age of 100 is quite an extraordinary feat -- yet not as uncommon today as it once was. In 1960 there were only 3K centennarians --today there are more than 65K according to recent census reports.
But for those looking for a single secret to living a century or more, there may be some disappointment because there doesn't appear to be one. The good news however, is there are likely several contributing factors ranging from healthy lifestyles and genetics to medical breakthroughs.
In today's research on aging, studies show that 70% is based on lifestyle while only 30% on genetics. Yet in Andelina's case, all of her 11 brothers and sisters lived into their 90s and 100s, according to grandson, Stephen Domingues. But at the same time, Andelina has outlived all of her 4 children, the eldest, Frank, died at age 70.
So genetics certainly has some influence, but perhaps more importantly is the role we play and the control we have on our aging process -- what we do, what we eat, and what we think can affect not only how long we live, but how well we live -- our quality of life. And while it's exciting to see the increase in longevity, we also need to consider the importance of not only just our life expectancy -- but our health expectancy as well -- the proportion of our life that's spent feeling healthy.
Believe it or not, Andelina's in remarkably good health and doesn't take a single medication! She's healthy, alert, animated, feisty, and get this -- her hair hasn't even turned fully gray! And it's not due to some secret Clairol formula in a bottle because Andelina has stated she believes one of her secrets to living long is never having been to the beauty parlor! Additionally she says her strong faith in God, never drinking, smoking, or playing cards have also contributed.
According to family, Andelina lived in her own home and was inviting relatives over for Sunday dinner until she was 107. For the past six years she's lived at Brighton Place where up til the age of 110, she walked ably throughout the residence and today propels about in a wheelchair.
"She's never been in the hospital that we know of and she's never really been sick to my knowledge," said Brighton Place administrator, Rebecca Williams. "She's just full of life, and quite a remarkable woman."
In all fairness, some credit is undoubtedly due to the caring staff at Brighton Place, who should be commended for the role they've played in providing a healthy, happy, safe environment for Andelina. As one of nine residential care facilities locally owned and operated by Carol Van Horst, R.N. and Barry Crowe, Brighton Place is literally a bright, shining light among an industry that is often publicly profiled as full of dark, horror stories.
But just like most other aspects of life, there's usually two sides to every story and the example Andelina is living and experiencing should be encouraging news to all of us as we embark upon this new journey in aging. And what a journey it's been for Andelina who's witnessed some rather historic events along her way:
1887: The year she was born began the construction of the Eiffel Tower in Paris; 1903: The year of her sweet 16 birthday saw the Wright Brothers make their first flight; 1917: Her 30th birthday marked the year of the Russian Revolution; 1929: Her 42nd year witnessed the crash of the U.S. stock market; 1944: At 57, the Allied Forces invaded Europe on D-Day; 1963: At 76, President John F. Kennedywas assassinated; 1969: Her 82nd year marked the first walk on the moon by U.S. astronauts
An incredible journey indeed -- and one she's still on. But what can we learn from this amazing feat of longevity that we can apply to our lives now? According to researchers at Harvard Medical School who have specifically studied centennarians there are simple steps we can take now, regardless of age, that can help minimize poor health and major disabilities later in life.
First and foremost, maintain a positive attitude and lighten your emotional load. Negative thinking and stress can take their toll on our health so it's important to learn how to let go of what can't be changed, adapt, and take control of the aspects in life you can influence.
That leads us to another factor -- learning to eat and drink healthily and in moderation. Weight gain can be the beginning of a number of health problems ranging from diabetes to joint problems. Alcohol was rarely consumed by most centennarians, and was certainly done in moderation, if at all.
Challenging our brain is equally important so by continuing to perform brain-boosting activities like learning new things, crossword puzzles, etc. this helps with the growth of new dendrites in the brain which compensates for some of the deterioration that is an inevitable aspect of aging.
Keeping in touch with friends and family and the importance of personal relationships are also important factors. People need people -- and those with social contact often age well. From volunteering to just having someone to laugh, cry or sigh with makes life worth living.
And finally, make activity a daily part of your life. It doesn't necessarily have to be exercise, but just moving your body everyday keeps you healthy and less susceptible to health hiccups along the way. Walking and climbing stairs are some of the best activities since they help improve balance and muscle strength, which decreases the risk of falls which is one of the leading cause of death in older people.
Andelina's never broken a bone in her lifer, that she can remember. But she definitely believes she's lived the good life, and as a result, she's got 115 years of experience to share with us all.
Live, love, laugh, and believe -- and always enjoy life's journey!
Ferrin is a local gerontologist residing in Carlsbad. She is a certified
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