By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
Receiving President Obama’s congratulatory letter, Gene Moy celebrated his 99th birthday with many female friends on April 7 at the Renton Senior Activity Center (RSAC).
Moy is impressive for his age. With no shortness of breath (typical in many seniors), he stands tall and fit, talks clearly, and smiles easily. And his memory is sharp, remembering important dates and numbers.
“What did you eat?” is the common question he gets, as many friends are curious to know his secrets to sustaining a long life! So the Northwest Asian Weekly is here to shed some light on the subject.
“I eat what you eat,” he would say laughing. Is he eating anything special or consuming magic pills? Is there a pattern of living he follows?
Born in Toishan, China, in 1917, Moy came to the United States with his father in 1931. He lived in Lewiston, Idaho before he moved to Seattle. Research has found that longevity has only 25 percent to do with genetics. Lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, and smoking habits, according to Scientific American article, play a bigger role. Moy’s parents died in their 60s, so his longevity has little to do with DNA.
Just what exactly does Moy eat every day? It’s a combination of Chinese and American food, as many Chinese Americans eat at home.
The only difference is he was the family’s chef, and still cooks and takes care of himself. He was the cook ever since he was married. “My wife likes it naturally,” he said The couple was married 65 years ago.
You might be surprised. A study found that people who cook at home up to five times a week were 47 percent more likely to still be alive after 10 years, according to Cambridge University’s journal, Public Health Nutrition.
Oops! Did my husband know something I didn’t? He has been the cook all these years. Should I go home and kick him out of my kitchen?
Don’t underestimate grocery shopping. It keeps our bodies and brains active, by dealing with a variety of products with new and old information, economics, planning, and exercising with hands and feet during cutting, frying, and washing ingredients.
Cooking both Chinese and American style has its own merits not only culturally, it’s also more healthy and fun. Chinese food tastes better than American food, in my opinion. Moy’s American breakfast with an egg, sausage, and oatmeal is nutritious and balanced, with meat and fiber. Eggs are known to be good brain food. Its protein forms a necessary component of important neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which enhances energy and alertness.
Moy cooks steaks, fancy Chinese food, such as pan-fried shrimp with shells on, and salty fish, steamed with minced pork from time to time. “I would chew the taste of the (shrimp) shell, and split it out,” he said. Ah, the guy is a foodie, striving on taste. So his diet isn’t really health-oriented, since he doesn’t really lean heavily on vegetables or fresh food.
Where did Moy get his cooking skills? After he joined the army, he started his own Chinese restaurant, New China Café, with three other partners. He found the chef’s 12-hour shift draining, so he quit.
Although he dropped out of high school, he applied for a job at Boeing. He was instantly hired as a mechanic and toolmaker, and he stayed for 28 years until he retired in 1982. His career might not have been high-profile, but it provided his wife and four kids with a decent living.
Longevity is not about how wealthy you are, it’s about lifestyle. A recent New York Times article said, “The right mix of steps to improve habits and public health could help people live longer, regardless of how much money they make.”
Another reason for Moy’s longevity is that he sleeps eight and an half hours every night. Sleep is vital to our brain’s health and memory. Studies have shown that lack of sleep over a long period of time can cause dementia and Alzheimer’s among seniors.
Five years ago, Moy wasn’t able to sleep. So he thought of ways to conquer his insomnia. “Instead of counting sheep like most folks, I count capitals.”
At 94, he is still interested in learning new things. He committed states’ capitals and presidents to memory. “Ask me about any president, 50 states or their capitals, I can tell you,” he said. I tested him with state capitals, and he just threw out answers like a student’s speedy recitation for an exam.
To maintain his independent spirit, Moy drives. From his Beacon Hill home (where he has resided for over 50 years), he drives two to three times a week to the RSAC for ballroom dancing.
You might take driving for granted if you drive. Seniors who stop driving experience “lower life satisfaction, poorer adjustment, loneliness, and lower activity levels,” according to Seniorsite.com. In fact, my friend’s parent said she’d rather die than stop driving.
Perhaps the most important contributor to Moy’s longevity is dancing, which he enjoys with several female friends every week. He gets his exercise, and works on his balance and coordination. Socializing is key to longevity. Isolation destroys life. It has proven that cognitive impairment is less likely in people who are socially active, and staves off memory loss.
Moy can tango far better than many of the celebrities on “Dancing with the Stars.” He would waltz through the big room of RSAC like a pro. His favorite dance is the swing. Moy is the center of attention because the women outnumber men by 60 percent, and everyone loves dancing with Moy.
“Men don’t live as long as women,” Moy said. “Women outlive men by 10 years. It’s hard for men to learn (dancing) when they get old.” Cari Murotani, one of Moy’s dance partners said, “He’s a gentleman — and a remarkable dancer (considering his age!) He also sings while he dances, thus serenading his partners.”
Moy learned how to dance at the United Service Organization (USO), which provided entertainment for the military when he served from 1941 to 1946 in the Pacific. He picked up dancing again in 1982 after he retired.
“Dancing is good exercise and fun,” he said. “I hate (other) exercises. I don’t get tired dancing, but I do when I walk.” It’s important to find a form of exercise that you enjoy, so you can keep doing it.
His wife, 93, lives in a nursing home with Alzheimer’s. Moy took care of his wife for many years.
By now, you realize that Moy’s longevity formula is no great mystery. His active lifestyle, dancing with joy, loving life, discipline, and meaningful routines explains how he can easily swing through to 99 years old.
We cannot reverse aging, but we can adopt an active lifestyle and a wonderful circle of friends like Moy to extend our lives. Yes, Moy is looking forward to his 100th birthday. Already, his son is planning the event—looking for a place to fill hundreds of people and of course, with a dance floor.
Assunta Ng can be reached at email@example.com.