100-year-old couple tells us the secret to long life and lasting love (it might be linked to Blue Zones!)
The secrets of long life and infinite love haven't just baffled our finest thinkers for millennia, they've left the rest of us goofballs scratching our heads too.
Blue Zones are the names given to geographic locations where people typically live past 100. Ikaria in Greece, Okinawa in Japan and Nicoya in Costa Rica are a just a few global pockets where long life is almost a given. But, an Iranian couple living in Canada may have some valuable wisdom to impart on the subject of both lasting love and longer life. And yes, it seems the two are related.
In 100 and Counting, a CBC Short Doc, we meet Ashraf and Mohammed Mohyeddin. They're 100 and 109 years old, respectively, and they've been together for 80 years. Astounding numbers. Geeta Sondhi, the director of the doc, admits it's like the Mohyeddins are cradled in "their own little Blue Zone." Here's what people who live to 100 do, just like the Mohyeddins, that could teach the rest of us about long life and sustainable love:
They move frequently and easily
Forget the gym and that triathlon you've been training for. Instead, plant a garden. The earth's longest-living people keep active naturally. They walk to the market, they weed their gardens or they just keep a tidy home. Mohammed and Ashraf 'stay active' organically, entertaining grandkids and family. Mohammed always makes sure he gets his daily exercise. The former General, who never slacks on moving about a little, gives his wife a hard time for not moving more. But she doesn't take much guff from him and reminds him she's had "eight children pass through [her]." Point taken. Also, their bickering is hilarious. And a potentially life-affirming 'activity'.
They eat plants
With military precision, Mohammed ensures he gets fruit in his system at 11 a.m. each morning. His specific dietary rules, which focus on proper digestion, include a strict imperative: "chew your food." He often asks his grandchildren, "does your stomach have teeth?" Sound grandad logic. Plants force us to chew more. It's active eating (as opposed to say pudding or mashed potatoes). Mohammed is clear that "food should be liquefied in the mouth and then go into the stomach".
To his credit, people in Blue Zones eat plenty of veggies like beans, lentils and soy daily. Meat is only consumed weekly or so and even then only in pretty small portions. Portions matter. Blue Zoners never eat until full. They adopt an 80% rule, leaving 20% of room in the stomach (which Mohammed will once again remind you has no teeth of any kind). Sondhi told me that meals figure prominently in the Mohyeddin home with daughters and grandkids often helping out making sure three squares are served daily. And fruit. Which is served at 11. Sharp.
They commit to love
Many centenarians commit fully to a life partner. And for better or worse, they stick it out. Though Ashraf is clear, that wasn't always easy. She admits there were entire years she "couldn't even look at his ugly face." Amazing. Years? Pretty candid. And no easy feat. I've gotten disenchanted on first dates with lipstick color. Perseverance and tenacity in love counts: it can add up to 3 years to your life expectancy. We're also given "marry wisely" as a piece of advice. Sound counsel if you're going to be sitting across from someone at the breakfast table for 8 decades.
But familial love is just as crucial. A steadfast partnership lets you focus on each other and the love of your children, who in turn offer care as you age. Sondhi was quick to tell me the building where the Mohyeddin's live houses several members of the clan providing constant visits, from daughters, to in-laws, to great grandkids. She's right, it's like their own little Blue Zone — all of which are tight communities with close familial bonds. Sondhi was clear to add that for everyone who had a say, a retirement home was completely out of the question. That proximity to aging parents and grandparents is good for the rest of the family too. Multi-generational bonding means everyone in the bloodline are likely fated to live longer lives too. Go call your mom already.
They believe in something
Something specific to all but about 2% of centenarians in Blue Zone groups is belonging to a faith-based community or practice. Prayers, at say, dawn and dusk, when you know others will be praying, joins you in a common experience. Mohammed asserts he prays twice a day "in Persian." A qualifier Sondhi reminds me has to do with religious tensions in his birthplace of Iran. But, denominations and belief-systems matter little when it comes to longevity. Only that you integrate some type of religious practice into your life. Something which Mohammed has done seamlessly. Sondhi confirms prayer never felt heavy and the practice seemed no different than going for a walk. Ashraf's only mention of faith is when she ryley quips "Lord help me" after Mohammed complains about her soup. To be fair, it's divinely hilarious. Stats show that attending some form of religious service just 4 times a month can add anywhere from four to 14 years to your life. Noted. I'm wondering if I shouldn't give Father David a call and see what's on tap for this Sunday at St Mary's.
They have a sense of purpose
Lastly, if you want to add years to your life, find a reason to get out of bed in the morning. All Blue Zoners have a raison d'etre and it drives them to live longer, healthier lives. Ashraf and Mohammed spent 70 years in Iran before moving away, but still hoped to return one day. Sondhi, herself an immigrant, admits it that it "breaks her heart that there is a strong desire to go back" to Iran for both Ashraf and Mohammed knowing full well it might never happen. Advanced age is not without its limitations. I offered that maybe that hope to get back is a driver, keeping them healthy. She doesn't disagree, and hadn't quite seen it in that light. Hope, however faint, gives one a sense of purpose that can add a whopping 7 years to your life. Getting back to your homeland one day certainly qualifies.
Although my very brief research into Blue Zone traits didn't turn anything up on disposition playing a role in longevity, it's safe to say that the Mohyeddins would likely add sense of humour to the list. Well, Ashraf would have. She confirms, that "attitude is everything in life" and even trumps things like money, especially when finding a mate.
Sadly, Ashraf passed away in December 2016. Aside from leaving behind a loving, thriving, close-knit family, she leaves us with some pretty concrete guidance. One such golden nugget delivered right to camera is worth jotting down: "you have to laugh at life."
Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen.