Learning from the World’s Centenarians

Learning from the World’s Centenarians

National Gratitude Month 2022

Thank you cardParents that have gone through the cancer journey know that maintaining their own physical and emotional health is crucial, and one way to maintain some balance is to have gratitude. However, feeling gratitude is a difficult ask when a family is faced with a cancer diagnosis. This National Gratitude Month we hope to discuss how giving gratitude can improve the quality of your life.

Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow, identified “Blue Zones” throughout the world. These are areas with high concentrations of inhabitants living past the age of 100. The zones were found in a wide range of geographical and cultural areas, including Japan, Italy, Costa Rica, Greece, and the United States of America. He and his team also found that, although the locations had many differences, the Centenarians also shared nine specific lifestyle habits that he calls the Power 9.

Smiling grandma at family dinner

Photo by RODNAE Productions

Let’s look at these habits of our planets’ centenarians and see if they can be helpful in your journey through these difficult days:

Find your Ikigai.

Ikigai is the Japanese concept of finding purpose in your life. Ikigai isn’t just your career or household chores. It’s the thing that gets you up every morning and keeps you going. For parents and close caretakers, this could be how you dedicate yourself to your child through their cancer journey. Finding gratitude in putting a smile on your child’s face daily and keeping that as your daily ikigai has the potential to keep you focused through the rough patches of everyday life amid cancer.

StatueCultivate a Moai.

Moai is an Okinawan tradition of forming and keeping a close network of people around you to provide support. People need people, and this concept has long been studied as one of the most important things for a long, happy life. Knowing you have a safety net to lend financial and emotional support when you need it the most can add to your peace of mind. Make a mental list of everything you are grateful for, this National Gratitude Month. Who are you grateful for?

Loved Ones First.

Sardinians uphold strong family values, and this way of living ensures that every family member receives supportive care, no matter what happens to them. The centenarians of Sardinia, and other Blue Zones, believe that people who live in strong, healthy families suffer lower rates of depression, suicide, and stress.

Baby drinking juiceLaugh!

Be grateful for your friends that make you giggle! They might be helping you heal and stay healthy. The centenarian men of Sardinia are infamous for their sense of humor, and they make time each afternoon to gather in the street and just laugh. Did you know that some medically backed evidence shows that laughter reduces stress and risks associated with cardiovascular disease? So, get your jokes ready for Turkey Day!

Your Neighbors.

You might find that when your family is going through cancer, your neighbors are the first to lend a helping hand. If this is you, you are one of the lucky ones! When an extended family lives far, a close connection with your neighborhood and community can make all the difference. Nicoya centenarians advise you to allow visits from your neighbors as much as you can. They provide you with a listening ear just steps away. Thank you, neighbor!

Women with open arms facing the sun

Some Sun.

Nicoyans believe that getting regular doses of sunshine is essential for a long life. It helps your body produce vitamin D for healthy body functions and strong bones, and vitamin D deficiency is associated with issues such as osteoporosis and heart disease. These centenarians strongly believe that getting about 15 minutes of golden light on the legs and arms is enough. Now, get outside and be grateful for the sunshine!

Buildings along coast

Photo by Jimmy Teoh

Think like a Mountain Dweller.

If your home allows you the space, even a tiny bit, to grow or maintain plants, you are luckier than you think. Ikarians that survived the longest, well over 98 years, were poor and lived in highland mountain areas. This means they spent a lot of time gardening and walking, which turned out to be exercise they didn’t even realize they were getting. So, the best advice from these Greeks is to partake in a little “mindless” movement daily. You might not initially understand the direct impact, but your body will undoubtedly feel the benefits.

Mediterranean Thanksgiving?

It’s no secret that diet plays a prominent role in the longevity of life. It also plays a significant role when a child has a cancer diagnosis. Interestingly, the Ikarian diet aligns with foods that are also safe and sometimes recommended for pediatric cancer patients. Ikarian’s secret to a healing diet is to eat a variation of the Mediterranean diet, with lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, potatoes, and olive oil!

Man prayingTime for God.

It might be difficult to show gratitude spiritually, especially when your child suddenly becomes sick. However, the folks in Loma Linda have found that being able to forgive and continue to rely on God for strength can significantly lift the mental burden and guilt you feel as a parent or caretaker. It can also give your child the mental strength to courageously pull through the pain and discomfort, knowing that they are not alone. These centenarians advise taking a 24-hour Sabbath that provides a time to focus on family, God, camaraderie, and nature. Adventists say this relieves stress, strengthens social networks, and offers regular exercise.

I hope these wise words from centenarians are helpful to all of you on a cancer journey. In the spirit of National Gratitude Month, you might take some time to connect with an older loved one. Find out what they are most thankful for, what keeps them content, and most of all, the secrets to a long and healthy life, even if cancer is an obstacle.

Need Holiday Support?

Here To Serve understands the holidays can be difficult for families with a sick loved one. Remember, we are here to support you not just during the National Gratitude Month, but all year round!  If you are a family with a newly diagnosed cancer child or know of a family who finds themselves in this challenging situation, please contact Here to Serve. Please click on the Get Help button from our homepage. Wishing you a healthy and blessed Thanksgiving filled with laughter, delicious food, and quality time with loved ones!

To learn more about the Blue Zone concept click here.

By Sameera Rangwala, M.S., M.P.H

About the Author

Sameera Rangwala spent 15 years in the biotechnology industry. As a scientist and research professional, she uses her skills to blog and provides words of support to the cancer community.

All content in this blog is for informational and educational purposes only. Always consult a medical provider in your particular area of need before making significant changes in your medical decisions or lifestyle.