Discovering the secrets to a long life
Two related articles follow.
The Granma International reporter's story on the 4th International Conference on Satisfactory Longevity attempts to shed light on the reasons why some countries have a higher proportion of individuals who live well into their 100's. It focuses on things like diet, physical exercise, etc.
Compare that account with an article on the same event that appeared in Journalo. (GW)
By Joaquin Ormas
May 24, 2007
THE 4th International Conference on Satisfactory Longevity had an emotional ending when experts from 13 countries attending the event shared some time with a group of Cuban centenarians and learned directly from those individuals about their experiences and motivations.
They learned about their eating habits, lifestyles, family environments and activities and the medial attention that the most elderly receive. Doctors and experts from Argentina, Aruba, Brazil, Chile, Curaçao, Spain, England, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, Russia, the United States and Cuba participated.
The centenarians who attended were Juana Hernández Núñez, 101; Amada Hernández Fernández, 102; Ramón Cordobés, world champion swimmer, 93; Juana Moreno, who at 110, who is in the group of super-centenarians; Eduardo Valdés Hernández, a professor, 104; Caridad León Herrera, 103; Juana Hernández Fernández and Mercedes Matilde Núñez, 102.
For different reasons, some centenarian guests were unable to attend, including Agustín Gutiérrez, who was caring for a sick relative.
The brief talks by the centenarians were very moving.
Juana Hernández Fernández asked the organizers of the 120 Years Club to take her to the sanctuary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, to ask the patron saint of Cuba for health for all Cubans and for President Fidel Castro.
Juana, who loves Cuban music, danced to the danzón tune "Almendra" with Professor Eduardo, as doctors, experts and centenarians’ relatives sang along.
In turn, Mercedes Matilde Núñez sang the second verse of an old guaracha: "¼ from Matanzas, they have sent me a message and they have told me to give it to you¼ I’m selling pants and a coat¼ little shoes for a tenner."
Amada revealed that she likes to lunch on rice and chicken with soup, vegetables and fruit. Other times, it’s a piece of roast pork. Those are her preferred dishes, which she prepares with a seasoning of garlic, onion, peppers and coriander. She likes to have a solid lunch, without overdoing it. And at 7:30 p.m., she eats slices of bread and ham with coffee. She doesn’t take a nap; rather, she is always doing something in the kitchen. Although she retired in 1971 from the shirt factory where she used to work, she is always looking for something to do around the house.
Super-centenarian Juana Moreno is one of the veterans who takes short strolls through the Havana neighborhood of Santos Suárez to say hello to her friends. Her sister Isabel is 106. Her favorite food is milk, although she also likes other normal food, as she says.
Recently, Juana underwent successful surgery on her face, and she still smiles when she recalls how during preparations at the operating table, she closed her eyes and the worried surgeon called out softly, "Juanita¼ " to which she responded, "Doctor, I’m still alive." She had an operation on her hip last August and three months later was walking normally, even climbing the steps of her house.
The teacher, Eduardo, who still works with students, seemed to be very impressed with the mood of the centenarians who accompanied him, and commented that "I came in here aged 104, and now I’m 70. We have to pay a lot of attention to this care that the doctors are giving us." His words were met by an ovation from the audience that filled the Taganana Room at the Hotel Nacional, where the event was held.
Eduardo is one of the centenarians who walks several kilometers a day and, as he affirms, lives a very ordered life, given that he neither smokes nor drinks alcoholic beverages. And his diet has been a balanced one. "My physical and mental state demonstrate it," he affirms.
Amada felt very comfortable at being in the Hotel Nacional, which she was never able to enter before the triumph of the Revolution, given that Black people were not admitted there.
Cordobés, world champion swimmer in the masters’ category (90-95 years), told Granma International that this year he is to travel to Brazil to participate in a competition of seniors. He reiterated that he has been swimming in the sea for 80 years, although he has to train for competitions in a swimming pool, which he finds boring.
In response to a question by a Spanish expert, he said that he practiced swimming without trying to classify, and it is now, when he is more than 90 years old, that he has competed in Costa Rica and Italy, where he won several medals and the world championship.
Like the other longevous individuals, he expressed his gratitude for the efforts of Cuban geriatrists, who give specialized attention to centenarians and to older adults in general.
Finally, Doctor Guido, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Cuba, described the gathering as moving and a cause for optimism. She recommended recording the life stories of the centenarians, and offered help from the WHO to that end. She expressed that the way in which centenarians are treated in Cuba gives an example to the world.
NEARLY 400 MILLION ADULTS OVER 80 BY 2050
Doctor Enrique Vega read out the conclusions of the 1st International Centenarians Conference, held in Havana last February, which reiterates that longevity depends on genetic and environmental factors, and only hereditary for a limited one percent.
Scientific evidence proves the link between the increased frequency of super-centenarians (those older than 110) and people who have lived beyond 120 years. It is also affirmed that people who reach – exceptionally, still – that age are more dependent in terms of their health and functioning on the endogenic aspects of aging than traditional risk factors.
They predict that by 2050, the world will have nearly 400 million people over the age of 80, when only 100 years earlier, that number was only 13 million.
They report that research on centenarians is scant, and that less than a dozen groups are working on such research throughout the world.
Meanwhile, the experts affirm that no special diet has been consistently related to living longer, although healthy and integral nutrition in general has been.
A consensus exists on the importance of physical activity, but they alert that for advanced ages, such activity should be based on the individual, requiring a previous examination by qualified personnel, to avoid negative consequences.
A fourth international conference of centenarians has been called for May 16-20, 2006.
A LOT CAN BE DONE WITH FEW RESOURCES
The representatives of UN agencies and the Pan-American Health Organization acknowledged the success of the Cuban public health system during the opening of the 3rd International Conference on Satisfactory Longevity, attended by scientists from 10 nations.
Serguey Zelenev, head of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), affirmed during a master lecture that Cuba is an example of how the economy and social aspects may be related to the benefit of longevity. The speaker stressed the necessary living conditions for older adults, including adequate nutrition, physical exercise, culture, a favorable environment, motivation and appropriate and timely medical attention. He noted that malnutrition increases the risk of common diseases, an affirmation supported by other speakers.
On analyzing the longevity issue in Latin America, Doctor Martha Peláez, regional advisor for aging and health for the Pan-American Health Organization, recalled that some years ago, the UN called attention to the changed paradigm needed by society, in the context of older people continuing to participate actively in life. And to consider what we can all do to live all of those years that we can.
She noted that during the 1940s, the life expectancy rate did not exceed 50 years, but that it has increased in line with scientific advances. She added that at the ages of 60, 80 or 90, one must make a great effort to keep in shape physically and to remain socially active, because society still has not learned to compensate and create natural spaces for older adults to continue living in a useful way.
After highlight the efforts in Cuba for older adults, she emphasized that "it is important to us to measure how one reaches an advanced age, not just that we get there."
Dr. Peláez announced that in the year 2000, two million people in the Americas had reached the age of 90 or more, and that it is projected for the years 20-50 of this century that some 14 million people on the continent will live to be 90. Of those, 689,000 will live to 100. "We have a long way to go," she affirmed.
A broad picture of medical care in Cuba was provided by Doctor José Ramón Balaguer, minister of public health, who during his master’s lecture highlighted the program to modernize hospitals, polyclinics and other medical centers. He affirmed that today in Cuba, there are 69,713 physicians, with 47.4% of them working as family doctors.
He pointed out the internationalist character of the island’s medical personnel, and announced that during the present year, more than 1,500 students will graduate from the Latin American School of Medicine.
Balaguer also explained that in Cuba, there are 434 multidisciplinary groups for geriatric care, and more than 710,000 elderly people who are members of senior citizen centers. He added that a primary care system is being implemented to prioritize disease prevention and patient rehabilitation.
Cuba is showing that a lot can be done with few resources in public health, he stated.
Alberto Juantorena, the outstanding Cuban athlete and current vice president of INDER, offered an enjoyable lecture on the development of the sports movement in Cuba, which more than winning medals at international competitions, seeks to make sports practiced in a mass way in order to contribute to the Cuban people’s health.
During the second day of activities, the delegates are to consider what may be done to develop intelligence beginning early in life; motivating via pyschoballet and gardening; roundtable discussions on asthma, hypertension, obesity and diabetes, and other issues.
Cuba's secret to becoming a centenarian?
26 May 2007
Beside her, Mara Alcala claps her hands following the rhythm. She's the same age as Flora, and also shares what they regard as the secret to becoming a centenarian.
Pure and simple, it's "happiness. "
"You have to laugh, you need a lot of laughs," says a smiling Alcala. "I have always been very cheerful, when I was young, I used to dance and sing a lot. "
Well past the age of flirtatiousness - though they still care a lot about their appearance - none of those attending hesitates to state their real age. Alcala says: "When I tell it, nobody believes me. "
Doctor Eugenio Selman-Husein, president of the 120-Years-old Club, a Cuban association dedicated to studying longevity, says these Cubans have found the secret key to a long life.
"Joy and happiness are the potion for eternal youth," he says.
"The philosophy of this club is that it is possible to become 120 years old without the need to make a great effort or sacrifices," explains this still-active surgeon, 77 years old. And another ingredient: "solidarity. "
"The Club was created to make possible for its members to reach the age of 120 helping each other, and also with the help of their community, friends and neighbours," he said.
With a life expectancy at birth of 77 years, Cuba belongs to the elite group of 30 countries with the highest longevity. In Latin America, it runs second only after Costa Rica.
For Selman-Husein, there are six basic rules to reach such a high age in a satisfactory way: motivation, moderate food, health, physical activity, culture, and the environment, "starting with your room. "
He says culture is especially important "because it is important spiritually and helps you to relax. Stress is one of the worst illnesses of the world."
Cuba has more than 1,000 centenarians - a figure expected to grow as a country-wide study of centenarians on this Caribbean island comes to a close. There are still three provinces to complete in the study that started in 2005, says Alberto Fern?ndez, director of the study.
In Havana, where the research has already ended, there are 270 centenarians, 14 of them even super-centenarians because they have passed the age of 105.
"I am not old, I am super-old," said one of them in an interview.
One characteristic they all share is their "tendency to be very positive" in life despite all the adversities, explained the authors of the study.
Angela Verde, a centenarian Spanish woman who left her country when she was just 19, hasn't had an easy life either, with one daughter born with Down Syndrome. Angela has been in an institution for 22 years, and her caretakeres say she keeps happy and cares about others.
"My mind is too clear", says Angela with slight resignation. "I was just once in New York, in 1935. "
Lopez, the dancer, doesn't remember many details - not even her school days and graduation.
"I know I knew how to divide," she says, trying to remember how old she was when she left school.
"Back then," she says, studying was not that important.
"I had a dignified life," says this woman who worked almost her whole life and who nowadays just enjoys singing and dancing as much as she can, as well as "reading."
"Let me finish talking," she says, while being escorted away. She says over her shoulder that she will answer more questions next year, "when I become 102 years old. "
According to Selman-Husein, longevity is also granted for the most prominent Cuban in the world: Fidel Castro, who turned 80 last summer and has survived a severe intestinal illness.
"He doesn't need to be in the Club, he is going to reach the age of 140," quips the 77-year-old physician.