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The Longevity Prescription: An Interview with Dr. Robert Butler

Dr. Robert Butler knows a thing or two about aging and enjoying a high quality of life well into your senior years. The 80-something professor of geriatrics and aging-research pioneer at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City is the CEO and founder of the International Longevity Center and the author of the 1976 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Why Survive?: Being Old in America.

In his new book, The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life, he explains how anyone can follow the same formula that many have used to achieve longevity. The eight strategies, each a chapter in the book, are: Maintain mental vitality; nurture your relationships; seek essential sleep; set stress aside; connect with your community; live the active life; eat your way to heath; and practice prevention. Dr. Butler recently spoke with CorePerformance.com.

Core Performance: A lot of people as they age worry more about losing their mental faculties than their physical abilities. What can be done?

Robert Butler: Three things. One is to learn knew things, intellectual pursuits. Learn a new language or how to play a musical instrument. Second is social interaction, constantly making new connections. The third is physical fitness. The idea of a sound mind and a sound body goes back to the Romans. Blood flow to the brain increases with physical exercise. Those three things can assure mental vitality.

CP: The decade of the 70s seems like it can go either way for people. Some enjoy a high quality of life while others are on the slippery slope. What makes the difference?

RB: We did studies way back in the 1960s at the National Institute of Health that found people who had some purpose, some reason to get up in the morning lived longer and better. We need to be productive when we’re older. We can work with children, volunteer, launch a second career or stay with the job we’ve already had. I still put in 60 hours a week and I love every minute of it. Staying in the workforce even a few extra months or a year has a huge impact on Social Security solvency.

CP: In your book you write about the importance of nurturing relationships. For some seniors, one of the struggles is seeing many of their friends die off. What can they do?

RB: You should have young friends, not just people your age and that’s true of people of all ages. One of the reasons women live longer than men is that they have much more emotional resources. They’re closer and more intimate to each other, they talk more frankly. Guys, we talk a good game and have a stiff upper lip but we don’t have that emotional component and that’s why women live five years longer.

CP: Sleep is such a challenge for many people. What’s the issue for seniors?

RB: We have great genetic differences and that might account for why some people can get by with four hours a night and most of us need about eight. As you get older you need more sleep rather than less. You might have a little illness or injury and sleep is restorative. Some people can get by with four hours but it’s good to aim for eight. Even people who get less sleep at night have a way of relaxing. They sit for a half hour quietly each day, for instance.

CP: In your book you bring up dental hygiene and how that’s changed a great deal since you began your work.

RB: In 1955, when I began my studies on aging, half of people over 65 had no teeth at all. Now it’s a lot better. We’ve made great improvements there but we can do better still. One of the points worth making is that 50 percent of people over 85 are still independent and have good health. You can maintain a vigorous healthy lifestyle at any age.

CP: How important are genetics in determining longevity?

RB: Not as much as people think. One of the key points of the book is that we think we live as long as our parents. Genetics are only responsible for 25 percent of our length of life. The rest is lifestyle and environment. We can blame our parents but we have only ourselves to blame if we’re not behaving with some wisdom.

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Sleep, Energy, Family, Longevity, Health