Monday, March 4, 2024

How to live to 100, according to my centenarian abuelita

My maternal grandmother turned 100 on December 23, 2023, and our family is both impressed and grateful for her remarkable achievement — because it’s not just her age that’s exceptional, but also her physical and mental health.

With an average life expectancy of 70.2 years, Mexico is no “blue zone,” making my abuelita’s achievement all the more impressive.

As expected at her age, she has battled health issues like high blood pressure, eyesight issues and trouble sleeping. But thanks to modern medicine, she has found a way to manage these conditions.  

However, what’s really extraordinary is that at her advanced age, she has remarkably recovered from serious conditions including bone fractures, heart failure, and just a few months ago, pneumonia. 

Her doctors are always amazed by the strength of her body, her heart and her mind, and people close to the family often ask: What’s her secret? 

After a recent conversation with her, I realized what I’ve witnessed all my life — there’s no secret to her lifestyle, only discipline in her healthy habits.

“How have you kept yourself so healthy?” I asked my grandma the other day. 

“Food is the most important thing,” she told me, before adding the advice she has always given. “One must always follow a healthy and balanced diet, exercise often and sleep well.”

To her life mantra, I would add “and socialize” because I’m convinced her busy social calendar has also helped boost her vitality.

So, without further ado, today I’d like to break down my abuelita’s advice to live to 100 healthily and happily.

1. Eat well

“If you have a pot with a flower and expose it to the sun and rain, it will grow. But if you add in fertilizers, it will grow healthy and beautiful. The same happens with our bodies. Vitamins are our fertilizers.” 

Whenever any of my sisters, cousins or I refused to finish our food, my grandma would invariably give us that example. 

 “You should eat everything but with moderation,” she would say. “And don’t forget to take your vitamins.”   

I never saw my grandmother go into strict diets or deprive herself of something she liked. 

She would eat everything from chips with spicy sauce, to Mexican pan dulce along with a cup of hot chocolate as a merienda (a snack before dinner), to ice cream and coffee. She even drank one caballito de tequila with my late grandfather (who died in 2012 at 94) almost daily in the afternoon, along with some cacahuates

She didn’t mind treating herself in moderation because she cooked delicious healthy meals at home that included animal protein, fruits, legumes and vegetables. 

However, one practice that she swears by is taking one spoonful of olive oil with a drop of lemon juice in the morning with an empty stomach. She doesn’t do it anymore, but she did it for over 40 years every day. 

Abu Ene ― Enedina Fregoso ― with one of her great grandchildren last summer. (Courtesy)

2. Exercise often

Most people are shocked when they learn that my grandmother exercised one hour daily until her early nineties. 

She would walk for 30 minutes on a static treadmill she had at home, and bike for 30 minutes on a static bicycle while praying the rosary or making calls to friends and family. 

This exercise substituted her daily walks in the park, just four blocks away from her home, which she stopped doing a few years before my abuelito passed away. 

My two sisters and I would also walk with her to Tacos Providencia (the best tacos al pastor in Guadalajara) at least twice a week and to the Pan Bueno panadería (a staple in Guadalajara) to buy pan dulce for our merienda. Sometimes for a treat, we’d go to the famous nevería and paletería (popsicles and ice-cream shop) Manhattan. All in the same neighborhood.

When my mom was young (she was the eighth of 10 children) and they lived in the Colonia Americana in the ´70s, she said my grandma would walk to the Expiatorio to listen to mass every day, in addition to walking to the market and to local shops. 

I’m sure my grandma has never stepped foot inside a gym — but with 10 children in tow, 23 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, and a life where she would walk everywhere, her life has been nothing short of active. 

3. Sleep well

“Sleep well to take care of your skin, and you will always look young,” she often reminds us. 

I think the main motivation for her getting enough hours of sleep is the appearance of her skin, in addition to having energy the next day.

Even to this day, she treats her skincare routine as a sacred practice, investing both time and money into ensuring that her skin is properly taken care of. 

Being mindful about her sleeping hours is a practice she also shared with my grandfather, who would go to bed at 9 p.m. every day and wake up at 5 a.m. At 1 p.m., he would religiously take a one-hour nap before lunch. 

While my grandma didn’t take naps, she was always mindful about her hours of sleep at night.

4. Have an active social life 

We have a saying in Mexico that my grandfather used a lot to talk about my grandmother’s social life: “Nada más ves caballo ensillado y estás lista para irte a cualquier lado,” which means “You see the horse with a saddle and you’re ready to go anywhere.”

My grandma has a very active social life. She attended many events such as charitable events, gatherings with friends, church duties, weddings, first communions, baptisms — and she didn’t like to skip a thing. 

Not only that but if the event were a family one, she would be one of the last ones to leave — even if it meant staying up after midnight.

Although she has not been as socially active in the past year, she enjoys outings for lunch with my aunts and uncles and travels to Puerto Vallarta often.

Genetics have indeed played a significant role in the well-being of my grandmother (my great-grandmother died at 96). However, I’m confident that her disciplined lifestyle has helped her achieve 100 in the remarkable way that she’s done it — and it is only my hope that I can have a healthy and happy life following her advice.

Gabriela Solís is a Mexican lawyer based in Dubai turned full-time writer. She covers business, culture, lifestyle and travel for Mexico News Daily. You can follow her life in Dubai in her blog Dunas y Palmeras

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