mardi 27 octobre 2009

You wanna live forever?

According to a recurring MSN article (click on title), here's all you need to know:

1. Maintain a relatively flat belly after menopause (if you're a post-menopausal woman and your waist measures more than 35 inches, it is time to take action)

2. Embrace technology: iPod, iPhone or Blackberry, Kindle or Nook-e-book (say it out loud), Twitter, Facebook...

3. Skip cola (even diet cola)

4. Eat/Drink purple foods; they're full of polyphenols (even red wine)

5. Stay away from burgers (and red meat in general - no more than 18 oz. a week - and stuff with nitrates, like hot dogs)

6. Get a little breathless for 40 minutes a day (run, swim, walk like you're being followed by a masher, avoid television or any other activity that tends to sink your butt deep into a chair for hours on end)

7. Walk instead of drive (if you drive, park as far away from your favorite retail habit as you can)

8. Clean your own damn house (and make your own dang quesadillas)

9. Be a flourisher, not a languisher (glass half-full kind of thing)

10. Be in a drama-free marriage or relationship

11. Hang out with healthy people (happy and physically active)

12. Be someone who was a healthy weight teen (not much anyone who isn't a teen can do about it now)

From a recent article in Le Figaro, we learn that from 3,760 in 1990 the number of people over age 100 in France rose above 20,000 in 2008 and could climb as high as 60,000 by 2050.

Autrefois, les centenaires faisaient figure d'oracle avec leur siècle d'histoire sur les épaules. On les auscultait à la recherche du secret de la longévité. Ils n'étaient qu'une centaine en 1900. Quelque 3 760 en 1990. Désormais, ils sont plus de 20 000 selon les chiffres divulgués aujourd'hui par l'Institut national d'études démographiques (Ined) dans son portrait annuel de la population française. Au cours des prochaines décennies, leur progression sera freinée, car des classes d'âge moins nombreuses gagnent les sommets de la pyramide. Mais les centenaires restent promis à un bel avenir.

Ils pourraient être 60 300 en 2050, selon l'Ined.

As tempting as it is to think so, I'm not sure this list holds the key to longevity. For one thing, the item about getting 40 minutes of exercise a day actually stipulated running, which is not good for aging joints. There are many ways to get aerobic exercise that do not involve running or putting undue pressure on the joints (tennis and other racket sports are killers); swimming and cycling are two examples.

And in France, one of the world's leaders in terms of producing "centenaires", people do not go in for running and self-punishing forms of exercise the way Americans do. People tend to walk more, get outdoors more, eat smaller portions, eat better quality food, etc. When I lived in Paris, I walked at least an hour a day without trying. I shopped for food daily, and walked to my neighborhood shops. And I had access to a much better healthcare system than in the US. This makes a huge difference. Plus, the French eat a lot of red meat, or at least eat it often. Our friend Joe, who with his wife Karen goes to France at least twice a year, says eating in France is like being on one of those protein rich diets. Lots of meat, deliciously prepared. Who can resist that?

There is nothing on this list about taking time to enjoy small wonders or simply taking time to do nothing but enjoy the silence. For some people (not me), contemplation is tied to religion and church-going. Whatever does it for you. But I think it is important to set aside some time to do nothing, every day.

Look at GG (top photo), who is going on 104. What's her secret to longevity? Running for 40 minutes a day? Are you kidding? Never! Embracing the latest technology? I think she decided to stop once she mastered the remote that controls the television. Maybe she just got the right genes. In any case, there is something to be said for resisting the temptation to hold grudges and judge others. That requires a degree of generosity and humility that may be the real key to happiness. And this attitude towards life may not lead to a longer one. In the end, it is about genes and generosity of spirit, regardless of what the list of 12 imperatives implies.