Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What Pudding is the Proof In?

One of my pet peeves has always been people who teach some system guaranteed to grant you radiant health and long life -- and then they drop dead at 50. Now, the normal reaction is to say, "Of course, you can't control the day of your death," but that's really the point: By touting their particular system they are in effect saying that they can control their deaths. They can shove them off into the distant future and feel better in the meantime.

Maybe the most famous example of this was Jim Fixx, who was one of the main advocates that made running popular and then died of a heart attack at the age of 52. Another person I put in this category, although many others wouldn't, is Dr. Roy Walford. He died at 79, which is an age a lot of people pass away at, but that's the thing: It's an average age to die. Dr. Walford was the leading proponent of calorie restriction (or "under-nutrition without malnutrition," as he termed it) as the most scientifically viable way to extend longevity. I really thought, based on the science, that he had a shot. He himself practiced it throughout his adult life and wrote several books on the subject, including The 120-Year Diet. But he died of Lou Gehrig's Disease at an unimpressive age.

One man who does not fall into this group though is Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, who has just passed away at 93 from "natural causes." He popularized Ashtanga yoga, which he practiced throughout his live starting at the age of 12. I am not a practitioner of yoga but this is the kind of evidence that could get me to start.

But the most impressive of all? Jack LaLanne. My mother used to exercise with this guy in front of the TV when I was a baby. Now here he is, 94 years old and still going strong, still working out every day, still selling those "Power Juicers." He claims that when he turns 95 in September, he's going to swim 20 miles to Catalina Island.

I can't bring myself to live the Jack LaLanne way, mainly due to his healthy eating rule, "If it tastes good, spit it out." But I think he's definitely proved his point.


Dan said...

Good to see your posts Jim. Thanks for bringing Drank to my attention. I'll be looking out for it.

As for this post, shouldn't Walford be given a pass from your judgement if the cause of death was genetic.

What I'd really like to know is the potential for placebo benefits from taking up longevity-related disciplines.

Lastly the promise of radiant health doesn't imply the promise of longevity, in my mind. I hope I die with radiant health.

Pleonic said...

Nope, I like and admire Dr. Walford and still think he had something with the Calorie Reduction theory, but he still let me down by not living to be 120. Especially since he did groundbreaking work in the '60's on the immunological theory of aging. Genetics isn't destiny, and a decent longevity strategy has to take it into account, I think.

I hope to die with radiant health too, though I don't have it now so I have some work to do. I think "radiant health" implies longevity in the same way a well-maintained Toyota implies it will run for 200,000 miles. It could still stop running, but it's more likely to keep going. Of course, some people get a Yugo instead of a Toyota.

Still looking forward to your blog, Dan!