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From The Desk Of Clarence Bass

Living To 100

If you enjoyed the book RealAge, which we commented on here a while back, you'll love Living To 100 (Basic books, 1999), by two Harvard scientists who are studying the world's fastest growing age group, people over 100.

In RealAge, Dr. Michael Roizen tells us how to calculate our real age and what we can do to maximize our lifespan. In Living To 100, Thomas T. Perls, M.D., and Margery Hutter Silver, Ed.D., director and associate director of the New England Centenarian Study (NECS), tell us what it's like to live to 100 or more and what we can learn from people who've done it.

In a recent survey, 63 percent said they didn't want to live to be 100, mostly because of worries about declining health and loss of mental faculties. After studying more than one hundred centenarians, interviewing them in their homes, scrutinizing their family trees, and assessing their physical and mental health, Perls and Silver uncovered a new pattern of aging never recognized before, a pattern that may give those surveyed reason to think anew. Contrary to popular perception and until recently the expectations of most geriatricians, people over 100 - there are currently about 50,000 in the United States, almost three times as many as there were in 1980 - are a surprisingly sprightly group.

New Pattern of Aging

The assumption that age and disease go hand in hand, Perls and Silver are finding, is wrong. Older does not necessarily mean sicker. In fact, according to these specialists, most centenarians are able to delay illness to a short period at the very end of their life. Perls and Silver say that compressed morbidity seems to be a characteristic of the very old. Long painful declines are seen more in people who die late in middle age. Most centenarians seem to have found a way to maximize the healthy portion of their very long lives.

How do they manage to age so well? How can the rest of us put the centenarians longevity lessons to work in our lives?

It helps to have good genes, of course. If one or more of your parents, grandparents or perhaps an aunt or uncle lived to extreme old age in good health, that improves your odds - but it's not essential.

Maximize Your Potential

Perls and Silver say the majority of us have strong enough longevity genes to live to age 85 or so, and we can compress the time that we're sick to the very end of our lives. The key is to make the best of the genes we have. "People who take appropriate preventative steps may add as many as ten quality years to that," say the authors. "People who fail to heed the messages of preventive medicine may subtract substantial years from their lives." In large measure it's up to us.

Carol and I used the "Life Expectancy Calculator" in the book to see how we're doing. Although I picked up a few years by having a grandmother and two aunts who reached their late 90s in good health, Carol used the female advantage to edge me out with a life expectancy of 99.1 years to my 96.6. We also learned a few easily implemented steps we can take to improve our odds of becoming healthy centenarians. The Calculator in the book only takes a few minutes to complete. It's easy to see where you stand and, more importantly, what you can do to extend your good years.

The fascinating - and encouraging - details are in Living To 100, which you'll find in bookstores everywhere. This book will change your ideas about aging. Buy it. Read it. Live long and healthy.

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108. Telephone (505) 266-5858 or FAX (505) 266-9123. E-mail: cncbass@aol.com.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.

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