Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rethinking Aging

     Hoping to extend your lifespan? You may want to dismiss everything you’ve been hearing to date, except for one old axiom.
     I say this after visiting Dr. Cynthia Kenyon’s lab at the University of California-San Francisco, courtesy of the American Cancer Society. Dr. Kenyon’s specialty is the study of aging (yes, cancer can affect that, and vice versa) by focusing on tiny worms known as C. elegans. These are simple little creatures physically, but they react to certain stimuli much like their vastly more complex cousins in the food chain, human beings. The worms’ speedy reproduction and short lives makes them perfect for extensive studies. Some of the results thus far hint at certain things we’d do well to take with a grain of salt:
     1. Oxidants. Yes, we’ve been bombarded with advertising for antioxidant pills, veggies and tonics, most of which claim that oxidants can harm us. Yes, that’s true, as far as it goes. But Dr. Kenyon’s studies have shown that worms exposed to a few oxidants live longer than those in pristinely protected, oxidant-free surroundings. So eat those blueberries – but relax about not ingesting enough.
     2. Stress. Granted, pulling your hair out isn’t a good thing. But the UCSF worms exposed to a little stress lived longer than those in stress-free conditions So what’s a little stress? It’ll vary by individuals, but a good way to cut back would be to stop stressing so much about stress itself.
     3. Weight. A well-balanced diet is the ideal, but for longevity, try a little less of it. Dr. Kenyon’s studies indicate that restricting calories extended the life spans of the worms, and could do the same thing for you. Don’t go all the way to anorexia, of course – that shortens lives. But cutting back a little couldn’t hurt. It may well help a lot.
     So, watch your weight until it drops a bit. Keep up that well-balanced diet – lots of fruits and veggies – but don’t go overboard about it. Accept that a little stress is a part of living – maybe a good part.
     And continue to hold onto that old axiom:
     Everything (even a little of the not-so-good stuff) in moderation.

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