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The Royal Secrets to Longevity

Some of the factors that might possibly be the reason Queen Elizabeth continues to enjoy good health.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on 21 April 1926, celebrated her 80th birthday in 2006, thus becoming the oldest reigning British monarch. When she turns 83 this year, she will have attained the maximum life expectancy for the average Canadian woman, while her husband, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, is a robust 87. According to a 2004 Statistics Canada report the life expectancy for women is 82.6 years and 77.8 years for men, (which mirrors life expectancies in Britain). Dr. Michael Gordon, Program Director of Palliative Care at Baycrest Centre for Geriatrics (Baycrest.org) who trained in Britain and met the Queen’s mother, feels that now a days, 83 is not so old. “I’m a geriatrician and in my practice that’s like late adolescent. The life expectancy at birth for the average Canadian woman is close to that. She’s not 100 yet. Her mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, did that by living to 101, and there’s a pretty good chance, baring the unexpected, that she can get there herself.”

Yet, even the best genetic biological makeup can be destroyed with external environmental factors. Researchers say we accelerate the aging process if we smoke, eat poorly, drink heavily, don’t exercise and get overstressed. Successful aging, says Gordon, is measured in both quantity of years and quality of life; not simply breathing but retaining vitality and enthusiasm, enough to make life well worth living. Queen Elizabeth, having maintained good health for most of her life, is enjoying an active life in her golden years. Here are some of the factors that are quite possibly the reason she continues to enjoy good health. Adopt them to improve your chance of living a long and healthy life. 

Go ahead, live like the queen!


1. Regular medical screening                                          

“Queen Elizabeth has regular medical screenings and access to medical care that keeps her in good health,” says Dr. Robert Petrella, Scientist and Assistant Director, Lawson Health Research Institute,The University of Western Ontario (www.sjhcfoundation.org). Preventive health screenings for both men and women should include measurements for blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar. The results can catch deadly yet avoidable diseases like heart attacks, stroke and diabetes. Men may also be advised to have an annual prostate check, and women, a regular breast examination, mammogram, pelvic exam and pap test.


2. Eat a variety of health promoting foods

The typical British diet, by and large, has not been a healthy one because it’s heavy on fats and carbohydrates, says Petrella, but this has certainly changed. “I’ve noticed a distinct difference in their eating habits and the availability of good foods. There is a better range of fresh fruits, vegetables and grains more typical of a Mediterranean diet.” This kind of anti-inflammatory diet has been linked with promoting longevity and Queeen Elizabeth would certainly benefit from it. And since the Indian Empire was a former British colony, (her father, George VI, was the last Emperor of India before its independence) we can assume that she is also familiar with the Indo diet which, Petrella explains, is also quite similar to the Mediterranean diet with it’s emphasis on grains and vegetables, but also the addition of spices like curry. Curry is loaded with curcumin, a chemical with potent antioxidant and anti-inflamatory properties. Studies of East Indians and Asians who eat curry have found lower rates of Alzheimer’s disease. Both these diets promote a healthy outcome. ‘I’m willing to assume that because of her status in the world, unless she had a phenomenal craving for junk food, the choice of foods and what was prepared for her was probably pretty balanced and well prepared,“ says Gordon.


3. Get regular light to moderate exercise

The Brits are big walkers and so is the royal family. “I know this because Sir Ian Hill, my professor of medicine at the University of St. Andrews in Dundee, Scotland, was the physician to the Queen and the Royal Family when they stayed in Scotland.

(http://gouk.about.com/od/royalty/qt/Balmoralvisit.htm). The Royal family were known for their enjoyment of long walks in the woods and grounds of Balmoral Scotland where they stayed during their summer vacation. I suspect throughout their lives, neither the Queen Mother nor the Queen ever belonged to an exercise club, but both were always avid walkers,”says Gordon. The Queen is also well known for her love of horses and horseback riding is also a very good exercise program. Longevity specialist, Dr. Vincent DeMarco (website TK) says that after diet, exercise offers the most health benefits. “ It improves almost every measure of health we can devise and there is a lot of evidence supporting the relationship of regular exercise and longevity.”  How much exercise varies according to your medical and fitness history and current test results. Fortunately, even mild exercise such as a 30-minute walk can help lower blood pressure and stress levels.


4. Stay mentally sharp

Queen Elizabeth has visited the Google headquarters in London and is said to email her grandchildren. She is still a functioning head of state involved with high-level meetings that would keep her mentally sharp. Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said in her memoirs “… ministers take their regular meetings with the Queen very seriously…they are quietly business-like and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience. Petrella adds, “she is in a position of leadership and not just a figurehead for many of the foundations she’s involved with. There are residences in different parts of the country which allow her to change her environments and be stimulated by change which keeps you mentally sharp.” Anything that challenges your mind — staying engaged at work, crossword puzzles, strategy games, reading, dance or music classes, debate and conversation with friends and family — will keep you mentally shape as the years go by. Use it or loose it.


5. Learn to manage stress

By no means has Queen Elizabeth had a stress free reign or an easy time as a parent. Three of her four children — Charles, Anne and Andrew — had failed marriages ending in divorce, announced all in 1992, a year the Queen would dub “Annus Horribilis,” capped by a devastating fire at Windsor Castle, destroying priceless artifacts and reaping a repair bill to the tune of 40 million pounds. As the monarch, even though she is not a policy maker, she has had her share to deal with — her father, George VI, was not meant to be king and, as her uncle Edward VIII abdicated for the love of Wallis Simpson, her family was thrust into the spotlight. Aside from losing her father, who succumbed to lung cancer at what we’d consider now a relatively young 57, and consequently having to take the throne at 26, everything from war and public unrest to, perhaps most notably, the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her country’s out-pouring of emotion and criticism of what was perceived as stoic mourning, surely added to her stress levels. “It’s not just a job where she sits around being nice to people. She does live in a stressful environment, but the stresses may not all be negative,” says Gordon.” He explains that on-going stresses in life give human beings creativity, tenacity, and interest in life as long as it’s not destructive stress. Destructive stress leaves you feeling constantly personally threatened. Chronic destructive stress increases the risk for stroke and heart disease. Research suggests that meditation, deep breathing, writing and chanting are helpful in reducing stress levels.


6. Maintain a constant body weight

Though not known for wearing revealing fashions, Queen Elizabeth has never appeared overweight. According to Walter Willett, MD, chair of the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health next to not smoking, staying lean is probably the most important thing we can do to stay healthy and live longer. This could also be the secret to the trim-physiqued Prince Philip’s turning 88 this coming June while still carrying on effortlessly. Leanness matters, because fat cells produce hormones that raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. Study after study confirms that extra weight, especially around the belly, cuts years off your life. Check with Health Canada (www.hc-sc.gc.ca) for   healthy weight range recommendations.

7. Make connections

People who are connected to those around them—through marriage, friends, a spiritual community, or other networks—tend to have longer life spans than those without strong social ties. Queen Elizabeth has a rich social life through her active involvement in many foundations. She and Prince Philip reached their 60th year as a married couple in 2007, making Elizabeth the first monarch to celebrate her diamond wedding anniversary. “They’ve not only had a long life together but a close life engaged in raising a rather large family of four children and now eight grandchildren,” says Petrella. “The fact that she has been with the same person for all these years has provided a very stable relationship for her.”   You can protect or improve your emotional health by staying in touch with friends, family, and the greater community.


8. Drink a cuppa tea…and barley water

High tea precisely at 5 pm, is a British ritual enjoyed by Her Majesty The Queen. “Tea has numerous health benefits including being an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-heart disease,” says Dr. DeMaraco. “Various teas have various benefits. Green tea is the most widely studied and probably the most beneficial. The longest-lived persons in first world countries come from Japan. This is thought to be due to two main factors — green tea and fish.” Barley water, usually flavoured with lemon or other fruit, is a popular British beverage. and a favourite drink for the royal household. In To Set Before A Queen, the cookbook written by Alma McKee who was the cook to both Queen Elizabeth and the late Queen Mother, there is a recipe for barley water– 1/2 cup pearl barley, 2 1/2 quarts boiling water, 2 lemons, 6 orange and brown sugar to taste–which the royal family were apparently all “addicted” to. The Queen herself is said to still enjoy drinking barley water and credits it for her peaches and cream complexion. She has also bestowed a royal warrant on the British soft drink brand Robinsons, makers of Barley Water.


9. Alcohol…in moderation  

The late Queen Mother was often the subject of comedic parody claiming she was tipsy from drinking whisky. “There is no question that in this family, alcohol is part of their normal activities, and small amounts of alcohol, unless there is an illness or contra-indication with medication, has a beneficial effect on the heart and brain,” says Gordon. Anecdotally, he recalls a patient at Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care who lived to be 105 years old and attributed his longevity to having a shot of Canadian Club whisky every night, “In Europe no one would think twice about it but here in North America it’s not part of the normal routine.” Numerous studies show evidence that red wine, in moderation, is good for us. “That’s one of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. It’s not just the fruits and vegetables, but the wine as well,” adds Petrella.


10. Keep a pet

Queen Elizabeth has a special love for dogs, especially the Pembroke Welsh Corgise, of which she is said to have 16. In a study at State University of New York, Buffalo, stock brokers with high blood pressure who adopted a pet showed a 50 percent decrease in blood pressure compared with their counterparts without a pet. “Getting a positive response from an animal may make one feel better and likely has an effect on the metabolic system to produce higher levels of positive hormones, which improves feelings of well being.” says Petrella. The Queen also breeds horses and ponies.


11. Help Others – Help Yourself

Volunteering in your community and sharing your talents with others is a gratifying and meaningful way to enrich your life. Charity work is quite important to Elizabeth. During her Golden Jubilee festivities in 2002, the queen asked that people wishing to commemorate the occasion make a donation to five of her favourite charities: Barnardo’s, CRUSE Bereavement Services, I CAN (which helps children with speech and language difficulties), the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, and the Soldier, Sailors, and Air Force Association. “We all know that of giving of oneself and doing ‘good works’ benefits the giver as much as the receiver,” says Gordon. “People say she’s such a good, charitable person. The truth is it’s nice that other’s benefit, but she’s doing it for herself because it’s really good for her. The look on the faces of the recipients can’t help but make her feel good and feeling good is a good thing.”


12. Have a Spiritual Focus

Aside from her official religious roles as Head of the Anglican Church of England, Elizabeth is said to regularly attend services most often at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, at St Mary Magdalene Church when staying at Sandringham House, or at Crathie Kirk when holidaying at Balmoral Castle. In her 2000 Royal Christmas Message broadcast to the Commonwealth Elizabeth said “to many of us, our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me, the teachings of Christ, and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life.” Organized religions “are a positive influence when they help give meaning to life, allow people to look at the world in a positive way and to forgive the weaknesses of their fellow man,” adds Gordon, “ but this can also be done without organized religion. If you look at spirituality as something that drives you to do good, right and moral things, then that’s also a positive influence.”


Excerpted from EverythingZoomer.

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