For the holidays, Michele and I gifted ourselves one of those popular genetic tests. We were happy to find out that the stories of our lineage were true, but the real reason to do the test was to get the genetic health information.
The multitude of longevity genes didn’t come as much of a surprise, given that my grandmother lived to the age of 104 and Michele’s grandfather just celebrated his 100th birthday. Michele’s grandfather is still active and even still drives. What was surprising was finding out that only 35% of people actually have the longevity genes.
A quick internet search will show just how hot the topic of longevity has become. It would seem that everyone wants to live forever. Search results include everything from new books being published (The Longevity Paradox or The Longevity Code), to studies on the giant tortoise genome, and tips for 100 ways to increase longevity. The Bible talks about longevity, there are Buddhist sutras on longevity, and ways of eating that help extend life.
But, even if you were born with these genes, having them doesn’t guarantee anything. Lifestyle factors determine whether these genes will express or be inhibited. Managing everything from stress, eating, movement, sleep, and socialization can help turn on or off genes.
The idea of a long life is the first thing I think of when I hear the word longevity. In fact, if you look up the definition, it’s the first thing that comes up across all the dictionary platforms. But longevity applies to actions as well.
As someone who has never been athletic, the fact that I’ve made exercise and a healthy diet part of my lifestyle still surprise me. I sometimes say to myself “Who are you!?” when I’m choosing to go to the gym over staying home on a cold rainy morning. The trick for me was connection to an activity that had staying power.
Zone 2 training is practiced by endurance athletes the world over. It is a long slow process, but it gets results. Learning about this type of training gave me permission to slow down and take my time. It satisfied my appreciation for delayed gratification because it took months to really see the changes that were occurring. But during those long periods of time I built a habit and routine of doing something that I’ve come to love and I didn’t get burned out.
I tried HIIT workouts, the hyper intense exercise that aims to get you super sweaty in a short amount of time. Those workouts only ended up jacking up my nervous system and making me worry that I was going to “live fast and die young.” They definitely were not for me or sustainable in my life. There was little to no longevity in this type of work for me.
I can say the same for the yoga practices I’ve tried over the years. The faster flow classes are fun and entertaining, but they don’t have much staying power for me. I usually feel like I’m missing something and often times I end up hurting myself. I always go back to my slower paced practice where I can connect with my breath, alignments, and my spirit feels nourished. And to be honest, not even the asana practice alone has had staying power for me. There are eight limbs of yoga after all, and when my interest or desire in the physical practice wanes, I have a solid foundation of other yoga to work on.
There really is no “one size fits all” with anything in life. But dreaming of living a long time or just reading about it aren’t enough. Even being born with the genes isn’t enough. Just as unhealthy lifestyle choices can inhibit the very genes that can help us live a long time, choosing an activity that doesn’t resonate with you will not last. The key to finding longevity of life or activities is to nurture yourself rather than deplete yourself. Find something that lifts you up rather than pulls you down. Don’t be so drawn in by the latest and greatest thing that you overlook whether the activity has staying power. We want to give OURSELVES the power to stick around and live for a very long time so we can leave our positive mark on the world – no matter how long that takes!