“May your hands always be busy 

May your feet always be swift

May you have a strong foundation 

When the winds of changes shift

May your heart always be joyful 

And may your song always be sung

May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young 

May you stay forever young.”

         Copyright 1973, 2001 Ram’s Horn Music

When Bob Dylan first sang this over 47 years ago, who thought the words related to us? I mean, we WERE young, and we assumed we were going to stay that way. Who ever imagined there would come a time when we’d be in our 70’s? That was them, not us. And yet, for most of my high school class of 1966, that’s exactly how old we are. WOW!

In 2013, the academic journal Cell published a paper called the “Nine Hallmarks of Aging,” which they found to be:

1) genomic instability

2) telomere attrition 

3) epigenetic alterations 

4) loss of proteostasis 

5) deregulated nutrient-sensing 

6) mitochondrial dysfunction 

7) cellular senescence 

8) stem cell exhaustion  

9) altered intercellular communication

Well, hair growth supplements, cosmeceuticals, “anti-aging” skin-care, “glycans,” collagen injections, spas, “clinically proven ingredients,” herbal teas, homeopathic alternatives of all types, perky breasts and plastic surgery haven’t been particularly successful. Throw in epigenetic drugs, telomerase reactivation, elimination of damaged cells, activation of chaperones of protease systems and anti-inflammatory drugs, to stem-cell based therapies, clearance of senescent cells, mitohormetics, DR; IIS and mTOR inhibition AMPK and sirtuins activation, and we’re left with hope. As of now though, there is no such thing as “anti-aging.” We age. Daily. It’s part of living. Simply put, “anti-aging” is not possible. Extending life through “active aging” is a wise step in the direction of living, allegorically, forever young.

Perhaps if we adhered to Dylan’s recipe, we’d all be fitter, happier, vibrant, zesty, anti-fragile, and enjoying optimal health. Fortunately, many are and many do. I’m reminded of the French saying, “The most gorgeous woman is bien dans sa peau meaning, “feeling good in her skin.”

“May you always do for others

And let others do for you

May you build a ladder to the stars

And climb on every rung

May you stay forever young…”

“May you always know the truth

And see the lights surrounding you

May you always be courageous

Stand upright and be strong

May you stay forever young…”

Dylan was on to something. I serve on the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Council on Active Aging. We know that people who are active and fully engaged in life, embrace life’s dimensions of wellness, who are busy, who see the roses on the thorn bushes far more than the thorns on the rose bushes in life, whose hearts sing, who do for others, who never stop building and growing, and who stand upright and remain strong…stay forever young. At least metaphorically. 

Each of Dylan’s steps not so hidden in each verse, relate to what we know promotes healthy living. Dan Buettner has spent many years studying areas in the world where people live longer and healthier. He refers to these as “Blue Zone” regions. What’s particularly noteworthy about these areas is that residents of these areas live not only longer, but more optimally. They all boast an impressively large percentage of people that live to 100, and the aging population in these regions remain active well into their 80 and 90s. These active agers typically do not suffer from degenerative diseases that are common in most of the industrialized world. In a sense, they are living forever young.

The Blue Zones regions are Ikaria, an island in Greece; Okinawa, an island in Japan; the Barbagia region of Sardinia (Italy); Loma Linda, a small city in California, and the Nicoya peninsula in Costa Rica. Buettner and his colleagues identified 9 common denominators in these Blue Zones. They call them the “Power 9”:

“1. Move Naturally. Moving naturally throughout the day — walking, gardening, doing housework — is a core part of the Blue Zones lifestyle. The world’s longest-lived people don’t pump iron, run marathons or join gyms. Instead, they live in environments that constantly nudge them into moving without thinking about it.

2Purpose. The Okinawans call it ikigai and the Nicoyans call it plan de vida. Knowing why you wake up in the morning makes you healthier, happier, and adds up to seven years of extra life expectancy. 

3. Down Shift. Stress is part of life, but Blue Zones centenarians have stress-relieving rituals built into their daily routines. Adventists pray, Ikarians nap, and Sardinians do happy hour.

480% Rule. People in Blue Zones areas stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full and eat their smallest meal in the early evening.

5. Plant Slant. Beans are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Vegetables, fruit, and whole grains round out the rest of the diet and meat is eaten in small amounts.

6. Wine @ 5. Moderate but regular consumption of wine (with friends and/or food) is part of the Blue Zones lifestyle. 

7. Belong. Being part of a faith-based community adds four to 14 years to life expectancy.

8. Loved Ones First. Having close and strong family connections (with spouses, parents, grandparents, and grandchildren) is common with Blue Zones centenarians.

9. Right Tribe. The world’s longest-lived people have close friends and strong social networks.”

These align well with the ICAA’s “Seven Dimensions of Wellness,” that include the intellectual, physical, social, spiritual, vocational, emotional, and environmental domains. See how they also traverse with Dylan’s “May you always….”?

Perhaps during this shelter-at-home period, you’ve been using the gift of time we’ve been given for genuine reflection on what really matters in life. Maybe you’ve come to fully grasp that health does come before what used to seem most important to you. Perhaps this is the real message of COVID19, a time to think about living in optimal health, hopeful, and forever young…

“May you stay forever young

Forever young, forever young 

May you stay forever young.”