The Four Pillars (or Paws?) of Longevity
Updated: Feb 23, 2021
My dog, Mr. Scruffy Pierre, is 20 years old. I adopted him from the Humane Society in 2005 when he was 5. It’s almost impossible to pinpoint a dog’s exact age once they reach adulthood, so he could be a little younger, but hey, if he’s 18 or 19, that’s still pretty old!
Many people have asked me, “What’s the secret? How has he lived this long?” I’ve thought about this question a lot the last couple of years, and while I’m no expert on doggie longevity, I think it comes down to 4 things: sleep, diet, exercise, and a positive outlook on life.
And the thing is, I believe these are the keys to a healthy doggy life and a healthy human life. In the end, we’re all made from the same biological building blocks.
In his old age, Pierre has perfected the art of sleeping -- I think his total count is around 16 hours each day. Even in his younger days, he preferred sleeping in to a morning walk. Or, he would eat breakfast and then go back to sleep!
As humans, we probably don’t have the luxury to sleep (or even relax) for 16 hours a day, but getting adequate sleep is an important ideal to strive towards. Shawn Stevenson’s book, Sleep Smarter, highlights the importance of sleep on our overall well-being. He emphasizes the importance of sleep for your mind, body, and physical and mental performances. Doctors and scientists alike are beginning to realize the importance of sleep on our cells’ ability to rejuvenate, repair, and rebuild.
When we sleep, our bodies are in an anabolic state, meaning our cells are working hard to rebuild and repair anything that was broken down during the waking hours. If we don't get enough sleep, our cells are unable to effectively repair.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, here are 7 key tips (of his 21) from Shawn Stevenson: 1. Get more sunlight during the day 2. Have a caffeine curfew 3. Avoid the screen 4. Use a blue light blocker on your computer 5. Be cool (literally) at night 6. Create a sleep sanctuary 7. Eat a high-protein, low-carb snack before bed.
I have no idea what Pierre’s diet was like when he was on the streets. I'm sure it was terrible. But since his adoption, I've prioritized his diet and quality of food. Without getting into too many details on doggie diets, the main takeaway is this: diet is an important key to health and longevity.
There are so many nutritional plans and diets out there, it can be tough to figure out what's best for you. I encourage you to read my blog post on Eating Well for Life . Whether you're drawn to the ketone diet, a vegan diet, a low-fat diet, or any other kind of nutritional plan, follow the tips in Eating Well for Life.
For the last 15 years, twice a day, Pierre and I have gone on a walk together. I carve out 10 minutes in my morning routine, and when I come home from work, the first thing I do when I walk in the door is grab his leash for our walk. (Well, maybe it’s the second thing – hugs and kisses first.)
Even now, at the age of 20 with arthritis in his shoulder and hip joints, he still loves his walks. Maybe it’s because it’s our special time together. He can no longer see, so I have to guide him on a tight leash, and yet, he still has pep in his step. Our walks are significantly shorter than what they once were, but we still have our daily routine, and he’s still getting exercise. Our vet has agreed that exercise has played a key role in Pierre’s admirable aging process.
The same is true for humans. Being active, maintaining strong muscles, and getting exercise are crucial for longevity and health.
This is a category that encapsulates many things and I struggled for what to call it. It’s about reducing mental stress. It’s about maintaining an optimistic, hopeful outlook on life. It’s about finding happiness and gratitude. It’s about no regrets, laughing often, and most importantly, experiencing love. Even at 20, Pierre is well-loved and happy, that is certain.
Many health studies today emphasize the importance of optimism and gratitude in relation to health and longevity: those who are the happiest tend to live the longest. The Science of Happiness is a real thing, y'all! And guess what? Exercise increases our endorphins...it's all connected!
We can learn a lot from our furry, little friends. While genetics probably played a role in Pierre's lifespan, I also firmly believe these 4 pillars played a role as well. I believe they are the pillars to living a long and healthy life, whether you're a human or a furry friend.