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Andrea Coladner, DO, shares the 5 wellness habits she believes will help her live past 100.
By Andrea Coladner, DO
February 2022, Looking Forward Newsletter
“Alexa, turn off 5 a.m. alarm.” Those are my first words almost every day. The next thing I do is roll over and give my husband a quiet kiss and soft hug so as not wake him. On cue, like a symphony, “beep, beep,” my neighbor’s auto start pierces the dead silence of my street just as my 8.5-pound chihuahua “Moose” squirms out from under the blanket and washes my face with his licking and I mindlessly pet his head.
Next, I sit up in bed and stab my feet into my warm cozy Uggs and wobble to the bathroom for my morning 5-minute mouth ritual while the dogs (I have three) patiently wait outside the bathroom door for me to finish. They’ve seen this show a thousand times and they know that it ends with them getting their breakfast, so they wait.
In those first minutes of my day, I have laid the groundwork for a long, happy, healthy life. In those first few minutes I have established at least five wellness habits that will help me achieve my goal of living past 100.
So, let’s rewind. I am a huge football fan, I just love the game and have since I was 9 years old watching Bob Griese work his magic with the Miami Dolphins. One of my favorite football credos is; The best offense is a good defense, and in that vein, your best day starts with a good night’s sleep. Here are some tips for that. Eliminate the stuff that keeps you awake. For me it’s eating a late dinner, too much ambient light and violent TV shows. I try to eat like the French, a heavier lunch and a lighter dinner and that helps a lot. I have room darkening shades, my cable box is hidden from view, and I have no devices with a constant light on in the room. Needless to say, there is no Dexter being watched before bed. To attempt to stay sleeping, my phone automatically goes on DND mode at 10 p.m. because I don’t really care if my EZ Pass has been updated at 3:30 a.m. Additionally, I keep the room temperature at 59 degrees, as I suffer terribly from hot flashes and a cooler room keeps me comfortable. You have to figure out what helps you sleep and what keeps you up or wakes you from sleep.
My early morning contact with my husband reminds me that I am loved and supported. There is a guy who needs me, and I need him. I know that I am extraordinarily lucky in this regard but there is a lesson here for everyone. Having loved ones nearby improves our quality of life in many ways. We are needed and need others. It is part of being human. There are five places in the world known as “blue zones.” People who live in these regions are three times more likely to reach the age of 100, they have minimal chronic disease like diabetes or hypertension, and they score off the charts on happiness questions. One of the things these places have in common is strong family connections. Loneliness is not part of their repertoire. You can create these bonds with anyone who you feel close to. It doesn’t have to be a blood relative. But as you move forward with your career choices, remember this: Being geographically close to ones who share love and support with you is extremely important to your health and happiness.
Knowing my neighbors’ routines may seem silly but consider this: Right outside your home and family, your community exists. It is a natural extension of your inner circle. There is somewhat of a mass effect that occurs in our circles. It is wonderful to feel loved and supported in the innermost circle of our lives, but how awesome would it be to extend that feeling to the next layer of your life? Maybe the love and support are less intense, but more abundant. Get to know your neighbors. Bring over a pie or a lasagna. Drop an invitation to take a walk in your neighbor’s mailbox. Observe who is living alone and may need some help shoveling their driveway or raking their leaves. Wouldn’t it be nice to wave hello to the folks next door and know their names? Guess who has strong community ties throughout their lives? That’s correct, the people who live in the blue zones.
What can I say about having pets? Unconditional love in exchange for some water, food and little exercise. I recommend furry pets. It’s tough to pet an iguana in bed. If the thought of walking a dog is overwhelming, or you have a schedule that keeps you out of the house for long periods of time, try a cat or a rabbit. If you’re allergic, get a poodle. It is a decision I promise you will never regret.
My morning ritual of oral hygiene started about 20 years ago. I inherited bad teeth from my parents. I also inherited a healthy fear of dentistry and poor oral hygiene. I was advised to undergo extensive gum surgery for pain and bleeding from my teeth. The thought of that scared the Dickens out of me so I sought a conservative alternative. After seven months of electric brushing for two minutes, flossing and power washing my gums with a water-pic for two minutes, I no longer had gum disease. Thus, a routine was born. Good dentition is not just about having a nice smile and good breath. It enables us to eat the healthy foods necessary to sustain a long healthy life. Of course, that is only the beginning of my daily care routine. I also exercise almost daily.
My exercise journey started as a teenager. I grew up in a tiny two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn. There were six of us. I have always been an early riser and I couldn’t watch TV because it would wake the whole family, so I started running on the boardwalk in Brighton Beach. By the time I was 16, I was running marathons. I’ve never been fast, nor have I ever really taken the stuff too seriously. It’s my down time, my prayer time, and my meditation time. I have run races as short as three miles and as long as 50 miles. I have finished well over a hundred races, including a dozen half ironman triathlons and one full triathlon distance. I lift weights 1-2 times a week and when the weather is nice, I swim in the sound and go for long bike rides. When asked what I’m training for, I always say the same thing…”life.” At 58 years old, I can run around with my grandchildren, carry them for miles when they get tired, climb the jungle gym and push them in a big cardboard box from Chewy until the box rips to shreds.
It doesn’t matter what you enjoy doing, but you must find something. Turn on your favorite music and dance. Join a yoga class on YouTube. Do sit ups, pushups or jumping jacks every time there’s a commercial during Jeopardy. Your body needs to be physically stressed to maintain your strength and your weight. It will keep your blood pressure and sugar levels at healthy levels. The endorphins and serotonin elevations will keep you feeling happy and energetic. You don’t need a gym, or a Peloton. Just a good pair of shoes and a commitment to doing something every day for a minimum of 20-30 minutes.
There is one other major contributor to your health and wellness. For me it’s the toughest one to conquer. My diet. Like all of you I know what to eat and what not to eat. The difficulty is putting that knowledge into practice. Let’s review what we know. We know that plant-based diets with minimal to no meat are ideal for longevity. We know that if animal products are a part of your diet (and that includes animal flesh, dairy and eggs), they should be hormone and antibiotic free. Now you have to be careful with that one because the cattle and poultry industries pay uber amounts of money to advertising agencies to promote their products. When the product says “raised without hormones and antibiotics,” they can still legally feed the animals meat products raised with hormones and antibiotics. Therefore, the label has to say “100% hormone and antibiotic free.” Also, if you’re going to eat animal products, try to keep it to 1-2 times a week. You can get plenty of protein from fish and legumes.
We also know that processed foods are generally more toxic than healthy. Store bought cookies, crackers, cereals, bread, pre-made rice, pasta and sauces, snack foods like pretzels. Many of the frozen foods that Target mothers and children like, “Bagel Bites” and “taquitos,” all toxic! White processed sugar is pure evil. It is much less daunting to focus on what you should eat versus what you shouldn’t, so let’s go there.
Vegetables and fruit, fresh if available, frozen if necessary, never canned. Beans, nuts, quinoa, lentils, speck, legumes, ancient grains, all spices except salt, fresh fish (locally caught if possible, responsibly caught if necessary). Try to find something fermented that you like. Most cultures have one: kimchi, pickles, olives, sour kraut, kombucha, yogurt, kefir. We believe that fermented food increases the diversity of your gut microbiome. A more diverse gut leads to less gut disease and decreased occurrence of chronic disease like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, the good bacteria provided by fermented foods help your gut synthesize most of the B vitamins and Vitamin K.
Keep your calorie count appropriate to maintain your weight. That may mean a reduction in calories as you age…I know that stinks.
One word on caffeine and alcohol. Moderation. There is ample evidence that some is beneficial, but too much is detrimental to your health and wellness.
Tobacco and illicit drugs in any amount and any form are detrimental to your health.
The jury on marijuana is still out for me. I don’t think we have enough long-term information to know if it is going to hurt our brains, hearts and lungs after prolonged use, especially in the 18-25 year old users.
So, what is the take home message here? We all deserve a life of health and wellness, and it is well within our reach. Sleep well, form lasting meaningful relationships and stay close to them, adopt a furry pet, exercise daily and eat cleanly. I’ll see you on the other side of 100.