Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Live to 150 Years Old? Healthy? Really?

"I want to live forever. Live fast and die young. Youth is wasted on the young. I hope I die before I get old."

Humanity has a complicated relationship with aging - and with overall health later in life. Vacationing in Summit County, Colorado, I am always impressed with the retirees - or just people in their sixties and beyond - hiking and biking the trails I'm on. Knowing too many older people who simply accept poorer health, less activity, and decreased quality of life as "part of growing old," I am curious about the ways people manage to age gracefully, even energetically.  Though I am not Ponce de Leon in search of the Fountain of Youth, I do believe there is a key to living younger longer.  That question is the basis of an engaging discussion - and article on the DailyBeast/Newsweek site - "Just how long can humans live, and live well?"

It's no surprise that Americans are on an anti-aging kick, especially as active Baby Boomers face their own mortality. Recently, there has been a buzz about a billboard message that reads The First Person to Live to 150 is Alive Today.  We've all heard about the miracle properties of resveratrol and red wine. There are similar "magic pill" ideas about ginseng and goji berries.  I've long believed that we seriously shorten our life spans and that the average American life span of roughly 80 years is on the short end. And, I also believe in a few myths surrounding longevity. Much of this goes back to my time living Taiwan when I studied tai chi with an 87-year-old shao lin kung fu master who was as spry as I was in my twenties. In fact, when a man in his eighties can nearly put you in the hospital with a punch, you have to think there is something many of us are doing wrong. And about this time, I also ran across a couple of books about taoism and the idea of more natural living.

One of the best was Deng Ming Dao's Chronicles of Tao, which tells the story of taoist master Kwan Saihung who studied the tao and martial arts under the Grandmaster of Hua Shan. The Grandmaster was allegedly 172-years old when the book was written. And that wouldn't even make him the world's oldest person - at least in Chinese lore.  Another great book was Daniel Reid's The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity. Reid recounts many exceptional stories of long, healthy lives, the most famous of which is the story of Li Ching Yuen who was reported to have lived to the ripe old age of 256. His story and long life was even reported by British newspapers in the early part of the twentieth century. However, a prejudice against the record keeping of early Chinese societies prevents the Western world from accepting such an amazing claim.

At the very least, I think we can all live healthier, longer, and much could be gleaned from better living. Certainly, there are many people who believe that our current lifespan could be extended in productive and healthy ways. For example, Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Michael Roizen - who gained fame on Oprah with their real age concept - have offered several books about living well and living longer, most notably in their book You: The Owner's Manual. And, Mikhail Tombak challenged notions of longevity and life span many years ago in his book Can We Live 150 Years? If nothing else, we could take the simple advice of Dr. Oz who recommends if you do nothing else for your health, you should walk thirty minutes a day and stop drinking soda.

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