Tag Archives: Walter Bortz

Getting to 100

11 May

My 93-year old aunt Ida called me this morning. She actually meant to call her grandson also named Mark. Given that she’s legally blind and uses a voice-controlled telephone handset, it’s not surprising that she heard “Mark Duvall” when the machine’s electronic voice said “Mark Hall.” But we had a lovely chat, nonetheless.

In every other way, my aunt is in great health. She lives without a caretaker in a semi-independent retirement community. She doesn’t use a hearing aid. She walks every day without a cane or a walker. And she plays bingo with a little ocular help from a friend, two years her senior.

In many ways aunt Ida would be a pretty good example for a new book, The Roadmap to 100: The Breakthrough Science of Living a Long and Healthy Life (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), which was written by a friend of mine, Randall Stickrod, based on research by Walter M. Bortz II, the former co-chairman of the American Medical Association’s Task Force on Aging and co-author. Aunt Ida was born on a California farm in 1916, married a local boy, raised six children, and has been active all her life. She never smoked, although her late husband did, and as far as I know, Ida never drank alcohol. What she did do a lot of, as I recall, is laugh. Still does, if today’s conversation is any indication.

Aunt Ida's mom & dad circa 1950

In Roadmap to 100 there’s plenty of information about exercise and diet, particularly the former. During a book reading at Powell’s Books last week, Randall said, tongue partially in cheek, “If you want to save the price of the book, well, in sum, we

say, exercise.” Actually, the book says much more than that, but it stresses the

importance of vigorous activity and backs up the assertion with hard data that the more you do so, the better your odds will be to live a long and healthy life, just like the title says.

The book also discusses diet and genetics, but it mostly reviews the science around how exercise leads people to better health. As Randall says, “You can’t eat your way to 100.” And, he says, your good (or bad) genes only contribute about 20 percent to your longevity.

What the book doesn’t cover is a sense of humor. I suppose that’s because there’s little science to back up the notion that laughter can lead to a long life. Although there is plenty of evidence to show that laughter can heal what ails you. Norman Cousins, the former editor of the Saturday Evening Post, was diagnosed with cancer and instead of moping around, he watched Marx Brothers movies and laughed himself to recovery.

Randall points out that the fastest growing demographic in the United States is the 100+ year old age group. Let’s hope they all exercise, so they can stay healthy. No one wants to be an invalid and live long. But in addition to running, biking, walking, and whatnot, I hope these oldsters also laugh. Because there are few things worse than grumpy old men and crabby old ladies, no matter what their age.