Julia "Hurricane" Hawkins recently competed in the 100-meter dash, winning her age group. At 103 years old, she holds the title of the oldest woman to compete on an American track.
When asked for her advice to living a long and healthy life, Hawkins said to stay in good shape, have many passions, and look for the magic moments. She also mentioned that she goes out to lunch with friends nearly every single day.
It turns out that Hawkins is doing everything science says you should do to stay healthy as you age.
Not just about diet and exercise
Keeping your body healthy is certainly important for living a long life. Eating and drinking more of what you should (vegetables, water) and less of what you shouldn't (burgers, booze) is a good move. So is getting exercise, even if it means walking around the block at lunch.
Yet it's becoming more apparent that maintaining your social health matters just as much. One study even found that social isolation can have the same effect on your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Having strong relationships with the people around you -- in your community, with your family, or with your friends -- is one of the best things you can do to stay happy and healthy.
A better predictor of your health
There's a new study that further supports this point. Published in the PLOS ONE journal, the researchers went one step further beyond reporting the positive benefits of having a strong social network. They determined it's a critical data point that's often overlooked in determining someone's health, but one that's a better predictor of how people report their stress, happiness, and well-being levels.
The researchers used FitBit data, cell phone data (texts and length of phone calls), and surveys from about 700 first-year students at the University of Notre Dame. They found that the strength of one's social network was a strong indicator of their overall wellness.
"My lifestyle, my enjoyment, my social network--all of those are strong determinants of my well-being," study co-author Nitesh Chawla told Time.
Fitness trackers don't tell the whole story
When we want to "measure" our health, we often turn to numbers because they're easier to measure. How many steps did you take today? How many minutes of exercise did you get this week? What's your heart rate?
But as the study's authors found, that's only part of your well-being story. Wearable devices don't capture one of the most important aspects of maintaining your health long-term. They don't ask: Are you feeling lonely? Did you talk to someone you love today? What are your hobbies and passions, and are you able to dedicate time to them?
Hawkins, the 103-year-old runner, clearly has it figured out. In addition to staying on her toes and going on long walks, she spends time with friends, cares for her many bonsai plants, and listens to books. "Keep interested in a lot of things to keep you busy and keep your mind busy," she advises.