Living a long life with joy and fulfillment begins with relationships and activity

Deborah Szekely who turned 101 years old on May 3rd, 2023, is a vibrant, active woman who enjoys sharing her thoughts on how to live a long life that’s fulfilling.  As the founder of two world famous wellness resorts, the Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico and The Golden Door in Escondido, she’s dedicated her life to health and nature.

Szekely gave an hour-long interview during the Health Aging Conference, organized by the Rancho Santa Fe Senior Center and sponsored by At Home Nursing Care, sharing her views on life as a journey to be enjoyed with friends.

At Home Nursing Care staff at Health aging Conference on living a long life
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“Friends are very key to a happy long life, it’s a support system, you only need two or three, the kind of friend where you call them and they say, ‘I’m on my way.’”

With a smile, she recommended to live a long life that that older adults find friends 20 years younger and stay active with those friends by going to dinner, attending shows and the Opera.  Staying connected is key to a long, better life.

Szekely sits after giving her presentation on how to live a long life filled with joy.
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Szekely credits her long, fulfilling life to taking “one foot at a time. You don’t start at the top, you don’t start halfway, you start at the beginning.” But at each plateau, she says, enjoy and learn from the new view.

She says people don’t give themselves enough credit and patience and forget that a long life filled with joy takes both time and work. Don’t expect instant gratification, make your life a pleasant journey.

“My life has been so interesting because I read some place that you should change your volunteer activities every 10 years.  You get new challenges, new friends, do something for children, something for older folks, something for animals. It gives you a sense of security because you know so many people are working to make things better.”

Asked about her daily routine, the centurion quipped, “I spend much too much time on my computer.”

She avoids bad news later in the evening, including only opening her mail in the morning and turning off news shows that make her feel unpleasant.

Daily rituals for a long life filled with joy

In the morning, she lays in bed for about 15 to 20 minutes to try and remember her dreams, then she makes sure to walk at least 1 mile outside every day.

Asked about what nutritional supplements she takes, she said she enjoys Chia seeds, Flax seeds, granola, and raisins.  Every other week she goes to La Jolla to receive an IV infusion of vitamins and minerals based on the results of her blood panel.  She credits her doctor, Mimi Guarnerii, for her energy and strength.

“I never get tired, I just never say, ‘Oh I’m tired.’  So many things to do.”

Szekely loves to read and enjoyed all the Japanese murder mysteries she could find.  Murder mysteries are her favorite genre.

After growing up in New York and Tahiti, she and her late husband arrived in Tecate during World War 2 when he couldn’t get the proper papers to return to Europe.  They ended up on a ranch, and on the first day planted a vegetable garden.  That eventually grew to 4,000 acres in a wellness program run by more than 400 employees.  Later they opened the Golden Door in Escondido.

“It’s been a blessed life, being and living close to nature.”

She is a vegetarian her whole life, and her mother was vice president of the New York vegetarian society.  She eats only half portions of food when eating out and has a personal trainer five days a week.

Seniors who live alone and may not have the energy to shop or cook due to health related concerns may consider an in home caregiver to help improve nutrition, or even using a protein calculator to make sure the daily required intake of protein is met.

Good nutrition and eating fruits and vegetables part of living a long life with joy
Quinoa, avocado and apple salad. Perfect for the detox diet or just a healthy meal.

While she has experienced loss and setbacks, including the deaths of family and friends, she credits the hardships for the best life lessons.

“You don’t really learn from success; you learn from failure.”

“I can’t imagine being afraid, I have the ability to accept the thoughts I want to accept, put the rest behind me.  Focus on the thoughts you like. “

Asked about the greatest wisdom learned in her long and fulfilling life, she states, “I’m wise enough not to answer that question.”

As for religion, she states, “I have faith. Jewish Zen Buddhist. I don’t believe in worrying. I don’t focus on negative things. I don’t start the day reading the news or worrying about stuff I can’t do anything about.”

She is inspired by Buddhism for dealing with death and grief.

drawing on Buddhism for living a long life with less grief
Buddhist monks walking in row across rice field with palm trees to village in Thailand

“I draw on Buddhism for loss. Staying in mourning more than three months and you hold a soul back, free them, you have no choice.  I lost one son and two husbands.  It was hard to let them go, but you have an obligation to other people.  So, mourn for three weeks, then let them be free.”

She also gives back, focusing currently on nature and children’s causes.  She also actively works with her daughter at Rancho La Puerta, currently working on a water filtration system with the nearby municipalities to deal with growing water shortages. 

Her goals for the future include more travel, including Kyoto to see more of the 1000 shrines there.

“Movement is life.  When you stop moving, you stop living.”