Leading an orchestra in Anton Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony is a real workout for any conductor. Tall and straight-backed, the very elegant Swedish Maestro Herbert Blomstedt stepped to the podium and led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the 66-minute piece.
From memory, no score in front of him.
He would repeat this performance for two more days before continuing his touring schedule. The Maestro will soon turn 95 and credits “the love of music” for his strength.
The same month Maestro Blomstedt turns 95, comedian Mel Brooks will be 96. He just published his autobiography All About Me! and then read the whole book aloud for the audio edition.
Not quite as funny, Queen Elizabeth will be 96 in April. Tony Bennett hits this age in August.
Redefining middle age
With numbers like these, I’m always trying to explain to patients in their late 40s that if they play their cards right they could consider themselves at the midpoint of their lives. It usually takes a moment for this to sink in.
Say you’re 48. 48 X 2 = 96. And there we are.
Really, though, say you’re 48 and mumbling some nonsense about getting old. Start now on a project to take good care of yourself–a project, not an obsession–and there’s a good chance you’ll make it to your mid-90s. (If you don’t reach your target, I offer no money-back guarantee, but I’m willing to wager you’ll feel much better day to day along the way.)
That’s what this series on Longevity Medicine will cover. Whether you call it lifestyle medicine or anti-aging medicine, the same principles apply.
I do believe the second half of life, taken as a whole, can be much more entertaining than the first, mainly because you have the brains to appreciate what’s going on around you. Childhood? You barely remember any of it. You ate and watched a lot of TV and played outside if you were lucky. Adolescence? You were miserable, depressed, and insecure. And your 20s? You were a shade less miserable and life was looking up, but you had little money to enjoy it.
There went your first three decades.
Fast forward to age 48. You’ve got some money–maybe not as much as you hoped for when you were in your 20s–and you also have more realistic expectations. You’re healthy and you do productive work (or if you don’t, you’re smart enough to consider looking for something new). You know what you like and what you don’t. Now you can actually enjoy life, especially if you’ve been taking care of yourself and are free of the chronic illnesses caused by living an unhealthful lifestyle.
Ever notice how people age?
Some people just look younger or older than their actual age. We see an old friend after an absence of a few years and think, “Jeez! Did he age!” and wonder what might have befallen him to press the fast-forward button. Or, conversely, you see a friend and think: wow, does she look good—what’s her secret?
While we should continue to make good decisions (how many people do you know who still smoke, eat a lot of fast food, or drink liquid sugar in the form of pop?), we don’t want to get too obsessive about it. Online advisors offer all sorts of helpful hints, but don’t let a fear of growing older take over your life.
Keep in mind the importance of genetics when it comes to disease and longevity. If most of your biological grandparents or great-grandparents lived into their 90s, it will be more difficult for you to die young unless you really work at it. If all the men in your family are wiped out in late middle-age by heart-related conditions, then yes, some obsessing is warranted.
With that said, epigenetics is a field of research that studies how your environment and other choices (drinking alcohol, smoking, etc) can influence the way your genes are expressed.
For everyone who wants a positive healthspan, exercise, controlling blood pressure and weight, clean eating, and fresh air are called for. Then there’s the emerging science on the microbiome and its relationship to health. And having community is closely linked to longevity.
It’s pretty well established that the Mediterranean-type diet shouldn’t be called a diet at all because that sends a message you can end it someday. Rather, think Mediterranean lifestyle. Read more here.
An unhealthful diet is just the opposite. Too much bad fat and highly refined carb eating is damaging because it places oxidative stress on your cells. Scientists can actually measure the molecular markers, like 8-OHdg and p53mRNA, that damage your DNA and age you.
A report from Sofia University Hospital in Cordoba, Spain, showed that after an unhealthy meal, those two aging biomarkers were elevated, but following a healthy meal and taking CoQ10 daily, these same biomarkers dropped. A second supplement, resveratrol, is a potent antioxidant that in animal studies activated an anti-aging gene.
Mark Lachs, MD, a medical doctor specializing in geriatrics, says, “one of the keys to a long, healthy old age is the ability to keep moving forward after life’s inevitable setbacks.” Read more here about some of his remarkable patients.
For Pinetop Perkins, the great Delta Blues pianist and oldest Grammy Award winner, it was all in the genes. To the end of his life, he smoked a pack a day. In 2004, his car was hit by a train and he survived. Living mainly in the South and frequently on the road touring with the band, you have to wonder what he was eating all those years.
Doubtful he ever took CoQ10, though in the good choices column it’s been reported that he gave up drinking in his early 80s. Dying in 2011 at 97, Pinetop was passionate about music to the end. Here he is, a member of the club, playing Chicken Shack at 97.
Is it coincidence that music bookends this Health Tip on longevity? You might enjoy this.
David Edelberg, MD