Anti-Aging – The Fountain of Youth – Part I

BioPsychoSocial Health CategoryI am fascinated by stories of 104-year-old people who wake up every morning, eat a half-a-pound of pork, smoke a pack of unfiltered cigarettes, and drink a few fingers of vodka. I tend to feel a little better about the caloric-rich breakfast that I cook every Saturday morning for my family. On the other hand, I dislike to hear stories about 42-year-olds who run 3 miles a day and die from sudden and massive heart attacks. Or there are the athletes who suddenly collapse during a game. They have spent years training, exercising, and performing, but there is a hidden physical ailment that claims their life in the end. I’m frightened by the reality that anything is possible, and no one is invincible.

twinsDespite our best efforts, we can’t escape genetics. Perhaps the best evidence of such is the story of the “Jim Twins”, two twin males separated at birth in rural Ohio. They grew up a short distance from each other, in separate households, not knowing of each other presence. However, there were uncanny similarities in their lives. Despite having the same name, James, they both gave their first children the same name (one was James Alan, the other James Allen). They married women with the same name (Lindas), divorced, and remarried women of the same name again (Bettys). They both had dogs named “Toy”, they both smoked the same brand of cigarettes, and drank the same brand of beer. They held similar occupations, enjoyed the same hobbies, and vacationed in the same area of Florida each summer. The “Jim Twins”, once reunited, were part of Dr. Thomas Bouchard’s twin work at the University of Minnesota.

Twins studies naturally lend themselves to a nature versus nurture debate. Is a person a summary of their genetics, or are they a product of their environment? In considering the Jim Twins, the similarities are so uncanny, that it seems possible to assume that our lives are predetermined when we are born. Some factors might explain some of the coincidences seen (e.g., popularity of specific names used during the time in which they lived). What we don’t take into account are the factors that might that have detracted from the similarities… the “what if” factors. What if one of the Jims grew up in poverty? What if one of the Jims had grown up in New York City, as opposed to rural Ohio? What if one of the Jims had been abused as a child? What if one of the JIms had an alcoholic parent? What if, as a child, one of the Jims had a parent to die? How would any of these environmental factors impacted the development of one of the Jims?

It is likely that the two Jims grew up in very similar households, and the environments would not have been significantly different. Environmental similarities would make it likely for there to be more individual similarities. Likewise, with environmental differences, there would likely have been somewhat different outcomes. This is true for our physical health as well. We might have some predetermined factors and qualities with respect to our genetics, but our environment is likely to promote different outcomes.

We do have some control over our environment. My personal opinion of the 104-year-old pork-eating, cigarette-smoking, drinker: They are likely to feel much better (physically and mentally) if they would exercise a high-degree of moderation.

Part II of this series will examine ways to optimize your mental as well as your physical health.

  • This is interesting. However, I think that as a culture we are getting too obsessed with longevity. I don’t see why people want to live to be 100, unless it’s because they are afraid of death. If that’s the case, then they need to address that. But adding on 20 – 25 more years of questionable quality seems rather desperate. Death will come, just a little later.

    We have now conquered enough diseases that humans are living beyond the capacity of their cognitive functions to allow them independent living. This is the truth behind the ever-growing numbers of people with dementia. They don’t die, so their brains wear out. Scientists now say they will cure that. If that happens we will have a world with ever-growing numbers of elderly people.

    I’m 53, and have been thinking a lot lately about how I want to age. I feel that I would like my last years here to be committed to the well-being of the planet as a whole. But living ad infinitum seems to go against the idea of good social ecology. At some point a generation needs to gracefully step aside, and make way for the new.

  • Elixabeth

    My grandmother lived to be just short of 101. She did not live excessively, she was from all I understand fairly moderate in her lifestyle and walked everywhere into her 90s. Her husband lived to be 93 and her sister made it to 94. She was close to my dad and aunt when I was growing up, despite being two days away from my family by car (Virginia) and on the other side of the country from my aunt (California). She made frequent use of the telephone and my dad called her every evening around the same time, she did not suffer from any mental impairments and was pretty involved in her retirement home in Michigan and even stayed current on political issues. She voted in the presidential election held a month before she died, something many younger americans don’t bother to do. She and her husband were both about 76 when I was born so there really could have been another generation squeezed in there if people had participated in more genetic turnover, but I guess those kinds of gaps are going to be more common in the future as more people wait longer to have families.

    I don’t really see how it is a problem that people live full lives. She had good, nonstressful relationships with her family and community and that seems to have helped a lot. It was interesting having her around. She had different generational outlook then many people who are today’s elderly who seem to have more serious impairments from the more toxic lifestyle younger americans live; she was much older but relatively healthy. What eventually got her was pneumonia. I never heard of any other major underlying conditions that she had other then common impairments of old age. I can understand not wanting to keep everyone living as they decline but she never had any mental issues at all. She was nearly blind by the time she died, but so are a lot of much younger people and that isn’t considered to be a major predictor of quality of life. Age is in many ways a distribution, some people live longer then others and there are some elderly who are appreciated more by their familes, which aids their quality of life. Her prospective was very different because of when she was born but also her position in her family. She was the baby of a family of mostly brothers and a sister and her parents were born in the 1860’s, so had her in their 40s. Her life and family ties had given her a grasp of a lot more history then I would have been exposed to otherwise. She was always very gracious.

Chadwick Royal, PhD, NCC, LPC, ACS

Chadwick Royal, PhD, NCC, LPC, ACS, is an Assistant Professor of Counselor Education at North Carolina Central University. He is a nationally certified counselor, a licensed professional counselor in North Carolina, and an approved clinical supervisor.

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