What if there were no mirrors?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

March 2008

"If you didn't know how old you was, how old would you be?" Baseball writers attribute that remark to Satchel Paige, a pitcher that many older fans remember with a fond smile. The African-American Hall of Fame hero appeared to defy the aging process throughout a career that lasted four decades and he did it with a wonderful sense of humor.

Do you remember when you saw your first gray hair? It probably drew a grimace when you spotted it in the mirror one morning. Have you ever caught your reflection in a store window and suddenly realized that the not-so-young image staring back at you was your own? By the time crows' feet appear at the corners of our eyes the mirror is no longer a friend. Wouldn't it be nice if there were no mirrors, nothing that would remind us so many times a day that we're getting older?

I'll guess that most readers feel younger than their chronological age and if we never saw what we actually looked like either in the mirror or in photographs we'd probably have a satchelesque self image. Jack LaLanne acts like mirrors don't exist. At the age of 93 the famous TV fitness personality enthusiastically flits from one speaking engagement to the next and still works out a couple of hours a day.

LaLanne was a skinny, sickly teenager who won bodybuilding awards on his way to fitness fame. If he still looks like a 70-year-old the credit doesn't belong to super genes but to a simple formula: get lots of physical activity and keep processed foods to a minimum.

Mainstream medicine is finally getting on board the LaLanne bandwagon. In the Nutrition Action Healthletter (December 2007) an international panel of physicians proposed guidelines that, if followed, would significantly reduce the risk of many types of cancer. These same recommendations would also dramatically lower the incidence of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, which together with cancer account for about two thirds of all deaths. The panel's main recommendations of maintaining normal weight, vigorous physical activity every day and eating a diet that consists mostly of plant foods are aimed at preventing cancer but they will certainly result in a more youthful appearance and a feeling of well-being.

It's true, of course, that we all have to die of something eventually but except for those whose heart attack or stroke is sudden and swiftly fatal, the rest of us spend nearly 10 percent of the average lifespan — an average of 7 years — battling lifestyle-related chronic diseases. Following a prudent lifestyle isn't about cheating death, it's about maintaining a healthy lifespan for as long as possible.

In his autobiography, Maybe I'll Pitch Forever, Paige wrote Rule for Staying Young Number 6: "Don't look back — something might be gaining on you." Rule Number 7 might have been "Don't look in the mirror."

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.