Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to Live to be 100

The Experts Remind Us How to Live Forever

According to the recent issue of National Geographic, babies born now in key countries, including the US, can expect to live to be 100.

At the same time, USA Today says that to be happy is easy.

Most sources agree that longevity ties to simple things.  Genes are one; living in a healthy country with good medicine and proper sanitation is another.  Where you were born is out of your control, as is, to some extent, whether you grew up in Sweden or Zimbabwe.  Some things though anybody can do.  Being married (or in the case of my gay friends, being in a committed, stable relationship) helps.  Friends help. Pets help.

Diet helps.  Anybody remember the ill-fated experiment of the sealed dome in Arizona, "Biosphere"?  They almost starved to death.  This a group of idealistic "earth astronauts" were going to live inside a sealed ecosystem and show us how space colonies would work.

In the end, they could not grow enough food to survive (more algae soup anybody?), and like prisoners of war and other deprived people, reported having nonstop food fantasies.  I remember one problem: no wind.  Without the wind blowing back and forth while a sapling grew, a tree's wood has no stresses, and no stresses (as with a body in a hospital bed over time) made the dome's trees weak, atrophied, spindly.  They would have traded three baskets of dwarf mangoes, I bet, for one jar of good, old-fashioned, oil-and-sugar enhanced Skippy.

(Breakfast of Champions, that one is.)  Yet ironically, while they were shedding weight and gaining daydreams about Thanksgiving dinners, they may have been on the path to the hundred-year mark.  Some doctors argue that in the industrialized countries we all eat way too much, and can (and should) survive on a near-starvation level diet.  In this view, we should look (and have the endurance of) Kenyan runners (or African school kids, who walk up to 20 miles a day).

I don't think anybody denies that exercise, to whatever greater or lesser degree, is another factor in feeling good and living longer.  I would like to spin in circles on my hands like these kids in the AVC Black Box, but am still working on it.

The mind's health is another aspect of this. One study in Sweden found that people who engage in cultural activities (visiting art galleries, for example) were happier and healthier than those who did not.  I assume they had appropriate control groups (you have to be healthy enough to leave the house, for example, before you can go to the museum for the day) and will take their findings at face value.  I know that among the faculty, following a sports team is NOT going to make you happy.  By definition, the odds are against you: your team will, sooner or later, lose.  We have on staff people who are devoted to a wide range of teams, from the Kings in ice hockey to the Boston Red Sox to Manchester United in footie, and all I know is, sooner or later, they all lose, usually at some key point, such as the playoffs.  True fans follow their teams even in slumps, I know that, but that seems to me a tedious exercise in misplaced loyalty.  I tried to follow the Lakers for a while, but in the end, the egos and salaries and blown chances just irritated me. 

In contrast here's a place that has never, ever let me down: the Walt Disney Concert Hall.  Closer than the beach, cheaper than drugs, it is a sure bet way to feel good about the world.

On Sunday night my wife and I went to see a 1919 silent movie at the Walt Disney Hall, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, accompanied by live organ.  The movie was good, the architecture was good, the playing was spectacularly good, and the people around us were clearly happy and thoughtful.  Somebody said he saw Tim Burton in the front row; others had on spectacularly good costumes, from "House, MD" to "Phantom of the Opera."  I have never NOT had a great performance experience there.

Here's what NOT to do.  Too many of us check our email hourly, half-hourly, even when we get out of the shower or have come back to the desk after just getting up to get a drink of water.  Some things do NOT help happiness --- so try, for example, turning your email off, your phone off, your twitter feed and your television off.  Get that crap out of your life and life will be better.

We have alcohol clinics and drug de-tox programs.  How long until we need those kinds of places for our cell phone addictions?  Turn it off and go for a walk.

After all, where's the one place you can't get reception?  What is the guaranteed absolute "zero service bars" place on this earth?  I promise you, you will NOT get any cell phone reception in the grave.

As the bumper stickers say, let's all live long enough to be a problem for our grandchildren.  First one of the AVC Blog readers to reach 100 gets two jars of Skippy and a free pass for a break dancing class.  See you there!


  1. genitics is the #1 factor, after that i would say eat as healthy as you can afford, do lots of random acts of kindness (beats any anti-depressent pill) and lots of exercise (sex does count as exercise)

  2. Actually, genetics is about 23-30 %. Diet, stress reduction, exercise, also contribute, how much is determined by a combination of all your risk factors (does the person use tobacco or alcohol) for example. Random acts of kindness do seem to stimulate a biochemical called endorphine, which is a human mood elevator.

  3. This beautiful Rumi poem, Birdwings helps me live easier..

    Your grief for what you've lost lifts a mirror
    up to where you are bravely working.

    Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
    here's the joyful face you've been wanting to see.

    Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
    If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
    you would be paralysed.

    Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
    the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
    as birdwings.
    from 'The Essential Rumi" Coleman Barks