Anti-Aging – The Fountain of Youth – Part I
I 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.
Despite 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.