What keeps you young?
(No. 58) Coffee, cold killer waves and laughter, by Stephen P. Williams
There is always an answer out there
Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash
I had a video meeting the other day with a guy in his late 50s. He flies planes. Climbs mountains. Gets up at 4 am to read books so he’ll know what he’s talking about in meetings. He’s youthful. I said I was very curious about the project he was proposing I work on, even though I knew nothing about the subject, which has to remain secret.
“I don’t know why, at 63, I’m excited to dive into learning how to write for a whole new medium, but I’m here for you,” I said.
“That, to me, is the definition of youthfulness,” he said. “When you stop being curious, stop wanting to challenge yourself with new things --- that’s when you start to get old.”
I agreed, and patted myself on the back. If nothing else, I am even more curious about the world than I was when I was younger. But in the last decade I’ve seen many living, sort of breathing examples of what happens when someone just decides they’ve learned enough, and they’re gonna coast the rest of the way. The destination, of course, being death.
Invariably, they start to sit more. They lose their muscles. They begin to walk slowly. And more often than not a general grumpiness sets in that alienates them from other people, especially other younger people. Social isolation encourages poor sartorial habits, such as thin yellowed t-shirts with little holes in them. The downward slide into immobility and boredom is quick, from what I’ve seen.
What will people do when, instead of assuming they’ll die in their 70s, they realize they’ll die in their 100s? Will they still give up at 58 and just watch screens for another 50 years?
Many people believe that the boomers will be the last generation of humans to face the prospect of living fewer than 100 years. For instance, a nonprofit called the Coalition for Radical Life Extension (CRLE) hosts an annual conference and festival called Revolution Against Aging and Death, or RAADFest. The founder, James Strole, calls it “Woodstock for radical life extension.” This year it will be online, to accommodate whatever virus variant we will be dealing with when it convenes in October. But in the past, in locations such as Las Vegas, aging health nuts have browsed acres of vendors of creams, oils, pills and “innovative treatments” like anti-magnetic-field floor mats that are said to protect people from age-inducing radiation. Some of this stuff sounds like quackery. But some hits the basket.
Photo by Artur Kornakov on Unsplash
There’s the very scientific work being done by David Sinclair, who works for both Harvard and the University of South Wales, in Sydney. That must be a hell of a commute, and I can’t imagine that all the ambient airplane radiation is good for his skin. (You can calculate your in-flight radiation exposure here.)
Sinclair believes there is no limit to how long humans can live. But he doesn’t think we’re anywhere near knowing how to extend our lives forever. He has come up with something called the “unified theory of aging” that explains why we get old. Basically, it’s due to problems that our DNA develops in reading and guiding cells. He’s working on ways to improve these cellular communication, so that certain genes are turned off or on in response to environmental conditions.
To Sinclair, the current human system is like a scratched CD. (Does everyone remember what those are?) He has said that “The genome is the music, the reader is the epigenome [the stuff that tells the genes what to do], and the scratch has stopped the reader from reading the music in the same way.”
He hasn’t yet figured out a solution to the problem of the scratched CD, but he’s working on it. He’s 52. To stave off decline he takes vitamin D, vitamin K, aspirin, metformin, resveratrol, and sirtulin boosting NMN daily. He writes about all this in his book Lifespan: Why We Age --- and Why We Don’t Have To. He also recommends a few habits that will help a person stay youthful.
You already know them, but I will repeat them, in case you haven’t been listening to yourself (or me): exercise, don't smoke, and eat mostly vegetarian. Unusually, he prefers to eat plants that have been stressed. That means they’ve been undernourished during their lives, and their stress levels have “turned on” their anti-aging qualities. Supposedly, those qualities will enter the human body as cole slaw or spicy Thai cucumbers. I find the idea of stressing my vegetables off-putting, and won’t be doing that. But I imagine that any spinach arriving from California in a plastic container is already feeling a little worried.
Sinclair has said that if he gives only one piece of anti-aging advice, it would be to eat less often. Many studies dating back decades have shown that decreased calorie intake leads to longer lifespans. Sinclair practices intermittent fasting, where people eat for 6 or 8 hours and then stay away from all food the rest of the day. I do that myself. It’s not a miracle cure or a super-weight-loss tool. But I feel better when I give my gut a break.
That’s pretty simple, and doable, advice for a long life. Get going.
Cold water is said to boost a person’s immune system. Balance exercises improve a person’s gait and movement. And stepping outside the comfort zone is always recommended for people as they get older. What combines all three of these factors in one terrifying exercise? Big Wave surfing? Maya Gabeira shows us how it's done.
More stuff to know
Coffee, black, please
Speaking of fasting for health and performance, aging golfer Phil Mickelson likes the idea of a six-day coffee fast.
She was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so in her 70s she started lifting weights. The results are astonishing.
Silly sack of silliness
Jill McMullon posted some brilliant exercise advise on twitter:
Until next time
Hat, sunglasses, but I forgot the sunscreen, which was a mistake. The day after taking this selfie I saw an actual great white shark, which made me think a lot about life. I decided I liked living quite a bit. Send me any suggestions, requests or advice to firstname.lastname@example.org