My 91-year-old grandmother is my last living grandparent, by a long shot. When I went to visit her on her 90th birthday, I asked her how she's managed to live such a long, healthy, and happy life. Here are my grandmother’s top five secrets to longevity:
1. Be physically active every day.
My grandmother is more active than most people half her age, which (unfortunately) includes me. I drive everywhere I go, and she walks. Because she lives in a big city, most places where she would run errands are within easy walking distance of her apartment.
She doesn’t suffer from any of the physical ailments expected at her age. She doesn’t complain of body aches or exhaustion. She is stronger, more muscular, and has more stamina than many 70-year-olds. And it’s not just the walking that keeps her active. My grandmother rarely sits still. She always has something to do — whether it’s cooking meals, sweeping floors, or doing laundry.
My grandmother isn’t physically active because some doctor told her that it’s good for her. That's just how she lives her life. While the rest of us are joining gyms and scheduling our exercise time, she just gets up in the morning and goes about her day.
The take-away: Find ways to be active within the existing framework of your life. You don't have to make exercise a separate part of your day. Just get up and move.
2. Keep your mind focused and sharp.
My grandmother’s favorite pastime has always been crocheting. Over the years, she has crocheted more bedspreads, tablecloths, and doilies than my mother and I will ever be able to use. But without even realizing it, my grandmother is doing more than just creating family heirlooms when she crochets. She is exercising her mind and improving her mental acuity.
Handicrafts such as knitting, sewing, and crocheting are like a form of meditation. They require focus, but without any undue stress. They are repetitive yet relaxing. In fact, they have been shown to improve brain health by employing creativity, problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, and even mindfulness.
The take-away: Find a hobby that stimulates your mind. Exercise your mind as much as you do your muscles. Take classes, do puzzles, meditate. Pay as much attention to the health of your brain as you do to the rest of your body.
3. Maintain your independence.
My grandmother has been living on her own for more than 30 years. Although she has plenty of relatives living close by, she is very independent. She's been making her own decisions, paying her own bills, and taking care of herself her entire life. As a result, she still feels confident in her abilities (both physical and mental) and doesn’t need anybody telling her what to do.
She also isn’t intimidated by technology and doesn’t feel like the world has left her behind. She remains up-to-date on news and politics, and feels very comfortable expressing her opinions with confidence. She trusts her own judgment.
The take-away: Be self-reliant. Don't ever feel like you can't do something because you're getting too old or you've never done it before. Have faith in your abilities.
4. Nurture your close relationships.
My grandmother prefers to be independent and to live on her own. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have plenty of close relationships. Her younger sister lives in a different apartment in the same building. The two sisters spend many hours of each day together.
My grandmother also stays in close contact with her relatives who live overseas. She and my mother call and FaceTime each other almost daily. She also remains in touch with me, my brother, and her great-grandson through phone calls, letters, and online chats. She's figured out how to stay independent while still remaining closely involved with those who love her.
The take-away: Keep your friends and relatives close to you. Maintain those relationships because they will reward you emotionally for years to come.
5. Provide for and care for others.
My grandmother is very close to her younger sister, and that is not just because they live in the same building. My great-aunt lost her sight several years ago. As a result, she needs my grandmother’s help with many day-to-day tasks. My grandmother knows she has a purpose and that her sister depends on her.
Just as Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl explains in his powerful book Man’s Search for Meaning, having purpose is one of the best sources of happiness and longevity that we can find.
The take-away: Find purpose in your life. Whether it's a person, profession, or cause, find something that you can dedicate yourself to and that gives your life meaning.
I hope that you can learn a fraction of what I've learned from my grandmother over the years and that these secrets will help keep you happy and healthy to the ripe old age of 91 — and then some.
What secrets to longevity have you discovered?