It's not how long you live

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

December 2012

If Methuselah really did live to the age of 969 years as the Bible claims he must have made an interesting sight. Considering how few modern humans beyond the age of 100 have intact vision, hearing and memory or can care for themselves it's hard to imagine living nearly 10 times as long. After all, it's not how long you live but how you live long, and we have some great role models besides Methuselah.

The longest-lived person on record was Jeanne Louise Calment, who made it to 122 years and 164 days, a fact that civic records clearly documented. Alas, Madame Calment had one advantage that most of us lack: her genes. Her father died only one week shy of his 100th birthday, her mother at age 86 and her brother reached the age of 97. Although she set a good example for remaining active well into old age, having taken up fencing at 85 and continuing to ride a bicycle until 100, she didn't quit smoking until the age of 117. When asked why she gave up the pleasure of tobacco her legendary humor came through: "It was getting to be a habit."

About half as many Americans smoke now as did in the 1970s but the legacy lingers. Tobacco is responsible for almost all lung cancer and chronic lung disease, most bladder cancer and much of the burden of heart disease. Quitting smoking won't eliminate the risk but it will modify it. That's the first place to start if you want to arrive at your maximum lifespan.

Daily, moderate physical activity is probably the most underestimated lifespan maximizer. It only takes about 30 minutes of sweaty exercise most days of the week (and keeping calorie intake the same) to keep muscles toned and most importantly, to lose 10 or 15 pounds of fat over 3 or 4 months. That relatively small investment will lower blood pressure, postpone diabetes, strengthen bones and boost your brain power — all at little or no cost and with no side effects.

It's obvious that diet matters but the changes can be painless. Substitute whole grain products for refined grains and have an extra serving of vegetables instead of the usual pasta, rice or French fries 3 or 4 days per week.

No one can guarantee that these steps will help you to live longer — but they'll make the trip a lot more pleasant.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.