From the title of Dr. Walter Bortz’s new book — The Roadmap to 100: The Breakthrough Science of Living a Long and Healthy Life — you might presume the noted gerontologist has uncovered some miraculous anti-aging formula.
In a way, he has. It’s called exercise and diet.
Old school as that may seem, the Stanford University professor of medicine presents solid, peer-reviewed research that confirms the belief that fitness — not antioxidant supplements, or gene and hormone therapy, or the latest “super fruit” — is the key to extending and improving life.
“Fitness is a 30-year age offset,” Bortz says. “A fit person of 70 is like an unfit person of 40. And the galling thing is, it cost us $2,000 per person per year (in medical bills) to pay for people being unfit.”
An outspoken proponent of personal responsibility for health and a frequent critic of mainstream medicine’s disease-oriented focus, Bortz, 80, is himself a model of healthy behavior.
Q: I read a statistic from your book that shocked me: By the middle of this century, we’ll have 6 million centenarians. Does that mean people are healthier, or are they just holding on longer thanks to medical science?
A: Oh, I give medical science a very small partition of it.
Q: Are people healthier now than before?
A: The data clearly show old people are staying healthier longer.
Q: A good thing, right? But don’t you also write in the book that we live in a “bifurcated society” in which we’ve got the really healthy and really unhealthy, and the healthy pay for the rest?
A: I lay a lot of the blame on health illiteracy. If you’re smart, you’re going to live a long time. Because now we know. It’s not genes and not doctors. It’s how you live your life. We are a … wonderful ensemble of genes. All these genes are little electric switches that must be tuned. The tuning of it is exercise. When you’re fit, everything tunes correctly. If you’re not fit, everything goes to hell.
Q: Exercise and nutrition — is that going to be a hard sell?
A: Sure. We, as doctors, can treat disease. We can charge you for it. We want things we can send you a bill for. But if you come into my office, and I go over you and say the best thing for you is to get on a really good exercise program, you’re going to stalk out because I didn’t give you the easy answer.
Q: Why aren’t doctors trained more to deal with health rather than disease?
A: They get paid for having you sick. They want you to bleed. I just lectured 600 doctors at Kaiser. They are all fat.
Q: So, if doctors themselves can’t stay healthy . . .
A: Listen, health is a control thing. You have to own it. I’m a student of the human potential. How long can we live? A hundred years. That’s our birthright. But it can be a good 100 years. It’s not lying around in some desolate nursing home.
Q: So longevity for its own sake is not a good thing?
A: Clearly, no. It’s quality of life. When I wrote my first book in 1991, called We Live Too Short and Die Too Long, I asserted that 100 was our birthright. A lot of people said, ‘This guy’s blowing smoke.’ Now we recognize that we ought to live to be 100 if we don’t (mess) it up.
Q: “Disuse syndrome,” you write, should be recognized as the real leading cause of death. You even say that newspaper obituaries should say, “He died of disuse syndrome,” rather than heart disease. Is a sedentary lifestyle really such a killer?
A: The data exist. There’s an article from (the Journal of the American Medical Association) about 10 years ago called Actual causes of death: that sitting on a couch kills you. Everything rots out before you go into the doctor and say, “Give me a pill.”
Q: How do you combat disuse syndrome in people who may not be motivated?
A: It’s I-O-I. “I” is information. People have to know it first. You have to be informed that, if you’re thin and vigorous, you’ll live longer. Second is opportunity. You need to live such that you have access to good food, not damned fast food. Lastly, incentive. I’m working on the government to make it worthwhile for people to be healthy rather than sick.
Q: Subsidies for having lower cholesterol levels and higher fitness levels?
A: Yes! Come in and I’ll do a health exam. If you’re healthy, I’ll charge you 10 percent less. It’s a reward.
Q: What about the ways other than exercise and nutrition? Everything from gene therapy to dietary supplements to super fruits. Is it people wanting to get the quick fix? Or is science trying to sell us product?
A: It’s money. I’m at Stanford. So high-tech. They all want their laboratories. They all want to find something lucrative that helps people. I was at a lecture there a year ago on angiogenesis — new blood vessels. The speaker said, “With these viral vectors, you get the first blush of a new vessel!” I went up to him afterward and said, “You get the whole thing from exercise.” He says, “Yes, but there’s no money in it.” It all comes down to what you can sell.
From the Sacramento Bee.
Drinking the fountain of youth
Can we discover the fountain of youth? Some answers lie with the healthiest people on earth – the elders of Okinawa in Japan.
One her Food Nutrition and Cookery Blog, British nutrition expert Jane Philpott provides education and consultancy services for individuals and organizations on the link between what we eat and our health and well-being.
Okinawa has a higher proportion of centenarians than anywhere on the planet – more than four times that of the U.K. Not only this, but they remain healthy and active into advanced old age. Compared with people of the same age in the U.K., Okinawan elders have an 80 per cent lower risk of heart disease, stroke, breast and prostate cancer, a 50 per cent lower risk of other cancers, including colon, ovarian and lymphoma, a 50 per cent lower rate of hip fracture, and a 30 to 40 per cent lower incidence of dementia.
What are their secrets? Philpott suggests:
• Maintain a positive, optimistic attitude. Okinawans believe that everything in life works itself out in the long run. They intentionally live a calm, peaceful life with little stress. When they work, it is at their own pace, rather than putting pressure on themselves to get things done in a hurry.
• Cultivate relationships. Okinawans often meet with friends and family just to chat, laugh or support one another. Endless studies have shown that people are healthier when they have good relationships and an active, positive social life.
• Eat a very healthy diet. It is considered especially important that the traditional Okinawa diet is both simple and wholesome. It consists mainly of plant food — whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. They also eat less than the average in Western countries and have a cultural tradition called hara hachi bu, which means eat until 80 per cent full. .
• Lead an active life. Most Okinawans walk everywhere, work in their gardens, dance and practice traditional martial arts like tai chi.
• Refrain from bad habits. There are very few older Okinawans who smoke or drink alcohol