Source: The Mercury, 11 November, 1997, p.26-27

Growing OLD gracefully

How to live longer

WHAT can we do today to live 
longer? Some tips for sidestepping 
the land mines:

   * Stop smoking-quitting for five 
years adds two years to the average 
life expectancy.

   * Exercise-90 minutes a day for 
more than three years adds three 
years; 20 minutes a day for that 
long adds one year.

   * Reduce blood pressure- below 
120/80 adds three years.

   * Cut fat-if less than 20% of total 
calories, adds two years.

   * Cut bad cholesterol - below 160 
adds a year.

   * Boost good cholesterol- above 
65 adds a year.

   * Prevent diabetes-adult onset 
diabetes cute a year.

   · Eat fruit and veggies - five 
servings a day adds one year.

   * Mate well - a happy marriage 
adds two years for a man, one for a 

   * Socialise-Seeing three social 
groups once a month adds two 

   * Protect kids - Immunise, 
eliminate household hazards, teach 
swimming, avoid gangs.

   * Get tested-Between 40 and 65, 
begin routine teats for prostate, 
breast and colon cancer.

   * Drink in moderation.

   * Practise safe sex.

   * Use seat belts and child car seats.

You can live longer - providing you exercise more and eat less. BOB LaMENDOLA in South Florida reports.

   GALAPAGOS tortoises can live to be 
152 years old. Could we? The short 
answer is: no.

   The long answer is: A growing 
number of scientists doubt the 
longheld belief that humans have a 
genetically programmed 
"maximum age" of 120 to 125.

   They say there may be no limit to 
our lifespan. With healthier living 
and a few medical advances, we may 
be able to push the boundaries.

   At the least, living to 85 or 90 
soon should become routine, and 
many more of us will reach the 
century mark, without years of 
debilitating illness.

   "A lot of people always said 'Who'd 
want to live to be 100?' Well, if 
you're healthy and active, you'd 
want to," said Ken Manton, a Duke 
University demographer.

   Manton said he tries to practise 
what he preaches, adhering to a 
better diet and exercising more.

   "I'm like everyone else," he said. "I 
want to live a long time."

   The single best way to live longer 
is to inherit good genes. Short of 
that, human ingenuity has helped.

   Americans' average age has 
climbed from 47 in 1900 to 76 
today, thanks to healthier living, 
better medicine, and vaccines and 
sanitation that have wiped out 
killer infectious diseases.

   The ranks of the elderly are 
climbing rapidly. About 60,000 
people topped the age of 100 last 
year. Four million beat 85, almost 
double that of 1980.

   By 2020, the US Census Bureau 
expects 214,000 centenarians and 
seven to eight million people over 
85. One in nine Baby Boomers 
may live a century. At the end of 
World War II, only one in 500 
made it.

   Picture your lifespan as a road 
riddled with potholes. Dodge one 
and your lifespan ticks up.

   As kids, the threats are infant 
diseases, accidents and parents who 
kill. Young adults succumb most to 
accidents and infectious disease 
(led by AIDS). Middle-agers must 
beat heart disease and cancer, twin 
killers that decimate those in their 
60s and 70s.

   But make it to 75 and chances are 
good you will see 86. Reach 80, 
you'll live another eight years on 

   Women typically live six years 
longer than men.

   Overall, however, some scientists 
believe none of us will ever 
approach the tortoises. They 
contend we can live only so long, 
that our cells are programmed to die 
after a given time. In this view, the 
average age tops out at about 85. 
The healthiest of us would hit a 
"brick wall" at about 120.

   Thing is, the wall keeps moving, 
according to researchers who doubt 
the theory.

   It was in 1800 that a person was 
first confirmed to be 100. (Tales of 
ancient Russians living to 120 
have never been proved.) Proof of 
the first to reach 110 came in the 
1930s, the first to reach 120, in 
1986. This year, a French woman 
died at a confirmed age of 122.

   The increases in maximum age and 
average age have been 

   Studies predict a slow and steady 
increase in longevity, and by the 
2065 expectations are the average 
age will be 86.

   Some scientists believe we can 
extend longevity to the mid-9Os 
simply by living right: no 
smoking, a low-fat diet, plenty of 

   "It's not extreme behaviour that 
does it," Duke's Manton said. "It's 
not running a marathon. It's going 
out walking four or five times a

   week; it's eating a sensible diet with 
limited fat."

   Manton is not naive enough to 
think people will suddenly change 
their ways, given that. But he and 
others said generations reaching 
old age in the next few decades are 
better educated. They know more 
about healthy living, are more 
interested in it and are more wiring 
to try

   "There's tremendous capacity for 
advances even if there are no more 
medical breakthroughs," said 
demographer Sam Preston, of the 
University of Pennsylvania. "And 
you know there will be some of 

   In the early 1900s, longevity 
jumped as antibiotics beat killers 
such as diphtheria. People lived 
long enough to die from heart 
attacks and cancer.

   Now we're making headway against 
the chronic diseases, sometimes 
with new uses for old remedies.

   Humble aspirin turns out to be a 
heart attack preventer. Ibuprofen 
may ease Alzheimer's disease. 

   ulcers, we now know, are caused by a 
bacteria that is easily killed. Vitamin 
E boosts the immune system, 
combats free radicals and helps genes 
that fight cancer.

   New drugs can reduce the effects of 
a heart attack or a stroke in 
progress. People live longer with 

   There's tremendous promise in the 
emerging field of genetics.

   Almost daily, researchers find 
another cause for disease and death 
within our 100,000 genes. Because 
genes are the inherited instructions 
for replacing cells, one mutation 
may have a big impact.

   In flies and worms, scientists have 
found that certain genes lengthen 
life, others shorten it. A mutation 
creates the opposite effect.

   One sequence of genes responds to 
adverse conditions by slowing the 
metabolism, which ultimately 
extends life.

   "The next big question for many 
gerontologists is whether there are 
counterparts in people," according 
to a 1996 report by the US federal 
National Institute on Ageing.

   In one recent breakthrough, 
researchers proved that mutations 
in a tumour-suppressor gene, p53, 
can lead to cancer.

   So called proliferative genes 
trigger fast reproduction, which 
unchecked can cause cancer. 
Meanwhile, other genes have been 
identified that combat overactive 

   Researchers believe dozens, if not 
hundreds of genes control 
longevity. Ultimately, they hope 
to learn to manipulate the process 
and lengthen life.

   "We're getting to a takeoff point 
where these technologies are going 
to start bearing fruit," Manton 

   It was while tinkering with yeast 
last year that researchers 
challenged the notion of a "brick 
wall" maximum age. By tweaking a 
gene called LAG-1, they got the 
yeast cell to reproduce 28 times 
before halting. Normally, the 
maximum is 21. 

   HUMAN cells have a similar 
cellular clock. No one knows 
exactly how the clock works. But 
the yeast experiment suggests it 
can be manipulated.

   Clues may come from genetic units 
called telomeres. These are chains 
of chemical codes on the ends of 
chromosomes. Each time the cell 
reproduces, the chain shrinks.

   Is a telomere merely an abacus 
counting down, or does it control 
cell division?

   Would lengthening them extend 

   Scientists also are studying 
compounds that damage cells and 
shorten our lives. The leading 
culprit: free radicals. Every health- 
food store today pushes 
antioxidants to combat this evil 

   The normal act of burning food 
produces free radicals, which are 
oxygen molecules with an 
unmatched (free) electron. So 
desperately does the cell want a 
mate, it grabs an electron from 
another cell causing instability. 
Free radicals are linked to cancer, 
genetic damage, hard arteries and 
more. Pollution and smoking also 
spawn them.

   "Ageing is a biological 
disordering. As we get older, we go 
from an ordered state to a disordered 
state," said George Roth a 
physiologist at the National 
Institute on Ageing.

   Antioxidants such as vitamins E 
and A and beta carotene come to the 
rescue. They pair with the free 
radical, reducing damage. Doctors 
say, however, that taking 
supplements does not work as well 
as getting antioxidants through the 

   Hormone replacement therapy is 
easier and more beneficial. The 
decline in estrogen production after 
menopause can lead to 
osteoporosis, heart disease, 
Alzheimer's disease and cancer. 
Studies show hormone replacement 
can prevent them.

   But estrogen also can raise the risk 
of breast and ovarian tumours, so 
women with cancer in the family 
should think carefully before 
opting for.

   For now, the best advice from the 
experts is painfully familiar: Eat 
more fruits and vegetables, eat less 
fat and exercise.

   Exercise is emerging as an elixir in 
all of this. Even people over 90 
benefit from simple walking or 
weigh/lifting. They have more 
muscle, strength and mobility.

   "Not only will you live longer, 
you'll be living with fewer health 
problems and infirmities," Manton 

   Along the same line, a theory 
called caloric reduction says you 
live longer by eating noticeably 
less. It works in animals.

   Burning food wears down the 
body's machinery and creates free 
radicals and other byproducts. Less 
food, in this view, causes less 


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