Let me preface this review by saying that I’m a big fan of John Robbins. I’ve previously written about another one of his books, The Food Revolution, and will one day share my thoughts on an early work of his, Diet for a New America, since it’s the book that really sealed the vegan deal for me. Aside from providing well-researched, comprehensive information in his books, his voice is also one of compassion, like you’re reading the words of a close friend. Having already been acquainted with his writing style by reading the aforementioned books by John, I had high expectations for Healthy at 100, and happily, I wasn’t disappointed.
I first picked up this book for my day-long travels from California to my home in Saskatchewan. Leaving at 7am and not scheduled to get home until 10pm (with only a one hour time change!), I needed a good book to read, lest I become super bored and antsy. Along with some coconut water I found at the airport and my last piece of raw biscotti from school, I was good to go (I also ate hordes of fairly decent airport food in addition to energy bars).
So, the book. The coolest thing about Healthy at 100 is that it goes beyond diet and exercise, the obvious factors in living a long and healthy life, and discusses how having a loving network of friends and family, a good relationship with your spouse, a positive outlook on life and a sense of purpose are found to be of equal significance for longevity. All of these factors have been researched and documented by science, with the real goldmine of information coming from studies on the longest-living cultures in the world: the Okinawans, Abkhasians, Vilcabambans and the Hunzans.
Each one of these fascinating cultures gets a full chapter in this book, detailing everything from their diet, activity levels, attitudes toward aging and elders, and the way they live. Parallels are drawn between these groups of people that are thought to contribute to their longevity, including:
- The elders eat a plant-based diet with few animal products, and no processed or packaged foods. They seldom consume things like sugar, getting their sweet fix from fresh and dried fruit. The produce they eat is fresh, usually picked right before eating, and is locally grown.
- Elders have ridiculously awesome fitness levels, even in their 90s and 100s. Their daily lives includes plenty of walking, running and manual labor.
- Old folks are revered and honored. It’s considered a blessing to house an elder, and people tend to inflate their age, claiming they’re 130 or 150 since it brings them greater status. Being old = being awesome.
- Elders continue to be useful members of society well into old age – there’s no concept of retirement.
- A happiness and love of life can be found in these groups of people – they sing, celebrate, and appreciate each day. When tragedy occurs, people band together and support each other. There’s a strong sense of community.
- Violence and crime is extremely rare.
- Women are treated as equals.
- An emphasis is placed on sharing and giving. Accumulating and hoarding wealth is thought to be in bad taste and is looked down upon – if you have extra wealth, it’s to be shared with others who are less fortunate. It’s an attitude of “everyone wins”, instead of “every man for himself”.
This book doesn’t claim that if you follow all of the steps contained within, you’re guaranteed to become a centenarian. John is very careful to point out that there’s no benefit in glamorizing a group of people or trying to be just like them. However, by learning from the example of other long-lived cultures, we have a good shot at aging with dignity, health and sharp minds no matter how old we live to be.
My long journey home was highly enjoyable since I had this book to keep me company. Aside from being a thoroughly engaging read, it also reminded me to stop and appreciate the little things, and treasure all of the love I have in my life. This book doesn’t shy away from sad facts and harsh realities, but the overall message is one of hope and optimism, and just made me feel good to read. So thank you, John, for offering the world another great book to help us become happier and healthier people.