April 16, 2011

Drink Beer, Eat Chocolate, Live to 100. ~ Jolee McBreen

Photo: Patrick Dohney

In today’s world almost every person seems to be on the quest for the fountain of youth. Most are consciously finding things to change and improve in their lives, be it mentally, emotionally, or physically. It got me thinking, is there really one good answer?

I came across an article that talked about a woman, Helen Reichert, with an unusually long lifespan and what she does to achieve such longevity. Helen is 109 and the oldest patient of gerontologist Mark Lachs. When hearing Helen’s age you have to first pick your jaw up from the floor and then you may have a few questions.

Photo: Samael Kreutz

The first that comes to mind is, sure she’s still alive but is she healthy? Even at her age Helen is still functioning, mentally and physically, and lives in her home while keeping active in her community. The second question may be, what’s her secret? A strict diet? Yoga? Vitamins? Drinking the blood of virgins? None of the above.

Helen has professed her love for Budweiser, her favorite beverage, and eating chocolate truffles. She even admitted that she might pick up smoking again, though she was advised against it.

Although we don’t have all the facts, it’s insinuated that Helen might not lead what some would call a healthy lifestyle. When certain individuals have an unusually long lifespan, it’s most often attributed to genes. Helen also possesses a special trait geriatricians call adaptive competence. In short, it’s the ability to deal with and bounce back from stress.

This was one of the reasons I was so intrigued by this article. It didn’t mention getting rid of stress. Although there can be some obvious causes of stress you may need to rid from your life, the truth is, we’re all stressed. If not right now, there’s a good chance we will be in five to 10 minutes. It’s finding the will and ability to keep going that will glide you through the stre ss and right into your 100s.

Sociologists that study these traits are gathering evidence that the connection between longevity and bouncing back from stress holds true. Professor Becca Levy surveyed individuals in their 50s asking if they agreed with statements like, “Things keep getting worse as I get older,” and “As you get older you are less useful.” Even with controlled medical conditions, those who agreed with the statements died 7 ½ years, on average, sooner than those who were more optimistic.

Photo: Maks Karochkin

I have to admit I am guilty of sweating the small stuff. Miss a flight, oh well. Car breaks down, I’m used to it. I’m also virtually immune to others’ stress and drama – though it took me a while to reach that point. However, can’t get the jar of sundried tomatoes open… grunt, twist the top with all my might, hit it against the counter top, bang it with a knife, with added expletives. I’ll find myself dumping the entire contents of my purse on the ground, throwing clothes around like a mad woman,  and scouring every corner of every room to find my favorite pair of sunglasses, which are unfortunately still missing to this day. Reasoning and dignity have left the building. I’m one loin-cloth away from a cave woman on the hunt for my next meal, or in this case, my favorite accessory.

While in the midst of my out of body experience, I don’t deal. Cave woman Jolee takes over the often more sensible Jolee and I sometimes forget that it’s not the end of the world. It’s not until after I have cooled off that I realize how ridiculous my reaction was and that I have completely terrified my lovely dog, Belle. Don’t even get me started on computer and other electronic glitches. Those guys know they’re always one error away to being thrown out the window.

Photo: Nasrul Ekram

The good thing that has come out of these unfortunate episodes is that I am now more aware than ever when I am, or about to, freak out a bit. Not to say I follow my own good advice, but I try to take a deep breath, assess the situation, walk away and do something else for a moment if necessary, and if all else fails call my mom. She bears the brunt of all my venting, whether she likes it not.

Could it really be this simple? Work on better ways to conquer stress and live a long and happy life? Professors, sociologists, and geriatricians alike seem to believe so.

Not only being a working student, but simply a human being comes with its bouts of stress with mounting homework, balancing work and play, bills, money, or lack thereof, and simply not enough hours in the day. We’re all faced with so much everyday that sometimes we don’t even want to deal with what’s stressing us out.

I think the best thing to keep in mind is that there is not just one way to handle stress. Take a yoga class, go for a run, vent to a friend, scream into a pillow, invest in one of those squishy balls you squeeze with your fist — I’m a fan of all the above. Do what’s best for you, but work it out.

If all else fails, take a cue from Helen. Kick up your feet, crack open an ice cold Budweiser, and indulge in some decadent chocolate truffles.


Jolee is a student at the Art Institute and whips up delicious coffee concoctions at a coffee shop in Denver. When she’s not avoiding homework or steaming milk she can be caught with her family, snuggling her two adorable dogs, in a yoga class, or dancing… pretty much anywhere.

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