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Long live longevity
Living to a ripe old age does not just happen by itself. One has to work at it. TOI-Crest speaks to some 'senior' age-management gurus to find out their secrets.
Methuselah is believed to have lived to celebrate his 969th birthday. Even though the Bible's longevity record-holder did not maintain a diary of his lifestyle, exercise routine and dietary habits, we can safely assume that there was a lot of walking and nut-eating involved (the Old Testament has references to people walking across deserts effortlessly ) in his daily routine. Today, if you manage to join the century club with your health intact, you will be told you've hit bull's eye. So what is the secret behind a long and healthy life? We asked a few people who have lived theirs to the hilt.
The grand old man of yoga, BKS Iyengar is 91. His face is wrinklefree (even though the flowing hair is silver), spine is straight and chest is spread wide. India's famous yoga instructor devotes four hours to yoga every single day. And that's his secret to a healthy and long life. "I wake up at six, and do pranayama for an hour. Then it's time to pick up the newspapers to know what's happening around the world. From 9 am to about noon, I do asanas nonstop. There was a time when I'd do a number of asanas. But now, although I do a lesser number of these, I hold them for a much longer time - till I am able to penetrate into my inner self and feel my body getting refreshed," says the yoga legend, who began his yoga practice in 1934, in Mysore. Post-yoga, it's time for a bath and lunch, after which Iyengar heads for his yoga institute where he sits in the library to work on his new book. By 10.30 pm, one of the world's most famous yoga gurus is fast asleep.
Besides following a disciplined lifestyle, Iyengar also vouches for a 30-minute headstand, besides the shoulder-stand and other inversions which, he says, are the poses that postpone the onset of old age. "Even today, my feet don't swing even slightly when I do the headstand," he says. Iyengar's prescription for staying young, apart from practising yoga regularly, is never to dwell on the past. "I live in the present. I live life moment to moment. I reflect - I do this specially when I am holding my asanas, and that's what keeps me refreshed."
Like Iyengar, Bangalore-based cardiologist Dr Devi Prasad Shetty also advocates a regulated lifestyle. "Want to live till you are 95?" he asks and goes on to add, "Then never ever upset your biological clock. Wake up at the same time every day, eat at the same time, and yes, sleep at the same time too. Respect your body's natural clock, don't disturb it." According to Shetty, there are essentially four key aspects to longevity - diet, exercise, stress and weight control. "Follow all of them. Help prevent diabetes and hypertension and you can undoubtedly celebrate your 95th birthday," says Dr Shetty, who at 57, doesn't smoke or drink, and never misses his 45-minutes of daily exercise.
For the 78-year-old, 10-km runner R Kanakasabapathy, doing what he terms "simple" exercises is not enough to keep one healthy for long. Chennaibased Kanakasabapathy has been running every single morning for the last five years, even when his term as district judge kept him very busy. His principle for what counts as exercise is simple. "I believe that chattering happily with your friends while doing your exercise does not help at all. Every morning when I go for my run, I see a lot of people, both young and old, coming to the grounds to exercise. However, there are only a few among these who do anything strenuous. I am convinced - after years of following my own principles - that if you do not engage in strenuous physical exercises, whether running or yoga, you are not going to live long." His sense of extremes extends to his diet too. Every day, after his vigorous run of 10 km and another rigorous 30 minutes of yoga, Kanakasabapathy rewards himself with a glass of orange and five glasses of neem juice which he makes with the paste of a hundred leaves. He calls this his daily dose of antioxidants or age fighters. "I believe that in life, it is the bitter experiences which make you stronger. This must be true of food too. And, in any case, I have no health complaints," says Kanakasabapathy.
Ask UK and Chennai-based aesthetic surgeon and age-management consultant Dr A Jeyaprakash, what keeps him going and he says, "Age management begins with introspection. You need to look at your genes and how your lifestyle is affecting them. You might have been born with the genes of an Ambassador (the car), but with the right diet and exercise together with a stress management routine, you can turn them into the genes of a Ferrari. So, it's all in your hands." The single most important aspect of age management, according to Dr Jeyaprakash, is a good and healthy diet. "Good nutritious food, while keeping count of calories, is the way to a long life. You must watch what you eat - that is most important - and leave out processed food and fruit juices that give you nothing but empty calories," he adds.
Discipline is the key to good health for Patna-based magician Kashinath Singh, who is turning 92 this year. A good laugh is the other requisite, he hastens to add. Talking about his daily schedule, Singh says he wakes up at 5 am and heads straight into a round of yoga and pranayama, a routine that hasn't changed in more than the last six decades of his life. "The first time anything went wrong with my body was when I had a heart attack at 90 and my second one at 91," says Singh. "But that has not stopped me from exercising, performing or teaching magic," he adds. Singh goes on to inform that about 10 years ago, he gave up tea, substituting it for sattu (wheat and gram) porridge, which he finds "a lot healthier". Adds Singh, "But if you were to ask me the real secret of my happiness, I'd say it's when I see people laughing. That's why I still continue to practise magic - and enjoy the joy it brings into people's lives. That gives me immense happiness."
For Kodai resident Kausalya Apparao, who will soon turn 80, life has always been free of any serious illness or infirmity. "For me, the secret to such a life has been to keep everything in moderation. Whether it's exercise, diet, sleep or work, I have never led an 'extreme' life - and I think that has kept me stress-free all through. At one point I used to work - design sarees and jewellery - which kept me busy through the day. But now, although I don't work anymore, I still make sure that once I am up at 6 am, I don't go back to bed until night. I guess, having my family and grandchildren around keeps me not just going - but also happy and young," she concludes.
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