Coming Up For Air
Millie Garfield is 85 Years Old Today

The Longevity Prescription of Dr. Robert Butler: Introduction

category_bug_journal2.gif I am astonished – well, actually, knocked off my pins that so many of you jumped at my proposal last week to read and discuss this book together. More than 50 responded - positively, even excitedly - in the comments, and at least a dozen more in private emails. Oh, the pressure on me (just kidding, sort of).

I'll do my best to relate the primary points for those who are not reading with us, along with my thoughts. The pressure on you is to add to, multiply and enhance however you see fit.

The introductory chapter of Dr. Robert N. Butler's book, The Longevity Prescription: The 8 Proven Keys to a Long, Healthy Life, is subtitled, “Embracing Longevity,” and indeed, he strongly notes that accepting the realities of age is crucial to a long, healthy life.

“Denial often poses a danger,” he writes. “It can be a form of lying or self-delusion...”

“If we an agree that denial is a destructive and unhealthy behavior in most of its guises, then perhaps our health would be best served by acknowledging an important reality:

“Namely, that we are aging.

“Go ahead, say it: I am aging. Let's not deny that we are aging. Let's deal with it, accept it, and use it.”

I've been saying that on this blog in a hundred different ways for years and I probably got it from Dr. Butler when, early on, I read one of his previous books, Why Survive? Growing Old in Ameria, which earned him a Pulitzer Prize.

Before we go any further, say it out loud again: “We are aging. Deal with it.” Make it your mantra for learning and applying the practicalities from this book.

Like TGB contributor, Saul Friedman, Dr. Butler never wrote a sentence that isn't packed with information which makes it hard to distill, although not hard – I must impress on you – to read. Some quick takeaways from the Introduction (quotations):

• No matter what your age, there are ways to enhance your longevity.

• A detailed analysis of [twins-studies] data found that about one-third of variations in longevity could be attributed to genetic factors...the longevity correlation between parent and child is surprisingly small.

• Your attitude to aging can change and slow the course of aging.

• [The] risk of heart disease falls for the smoker who quits, whatever his age or number of smoking years.

• There is a strong correlation between an active life and a long one.

• As we age, ADEQUATE SLEEP AND REST, at night and as naps, are essential to sustaining good health.

• Two strong predictors for high physical function in the eighth decade of life were higher mental function, the other the presence of emotional support.

Although Butler's discussions throughout the book range far and wide among personal anecdotes and a dozen or more research disciplines related to aging, the meat of this introductory chapter is a tool, The Longevity Index, that assesses and scores your current health practices.

The Index is a list of 25 questions, the answers to which you score from zero (not at all true) to three (true). Obviously, that is too much to enumerate here (sorry, you'll have to get ahold of the book to prepare your score) but covers eating habits, activities, emotional relationships, brain work, stress levels and physical caretaking.

Out of a perfect score of 75 (yeah, right) I came in at 52, “acceptable” but above “need judicious changes” by only two points. The other possible categories are “impressive but keep reading” at the top and “your health is in jeopardy” at the bottom.

The Index leads to making a preliminary list of changes before reading further and, then, undoubtedly amending. I chose the top five zero answers (not at all true) in my Index. (The questions are constructed so that threes are positive health practices and zeroes are all negative.) Here is my list of changes:

Smoking: I quit smoking years ago, but I am a serial recidivist. Twice a calendar year, I smoke for week, never longer. But god, I miss it - every day - even though it's been way more than a decade since I gave it up. I must stop the deliberate backsliding. (By the way, I refuse to discuss this with anyone so just glide on by to the next paragraph and don't mention it in the comments.)

Physical Activity: I've slackened off on my morning walks. I'm now setting a goal of five days a week, three miles each (about an hour). When the temperature settles down to below 80, I'll add two evenings a week of the same length. Plus, my BMI estimate (see page 141 for the calculation instructions – Kindle readers, page numbers are different) is 29.3, just .7 shy of obese designation. Gotta fix that.

Not Married and No Significant Other: Well, there's not much I can do about that and I'm pretty sure that after 20-odd years without one, it's by choice. But I can strengthen relationships with the people I love by keeping in closer, more frequent touch – even at a physical distance.

Social Life: Some of us (I'm one of them) don't need as many people around or as frequently as others do and I think it is important to understand one's nature. But now that my depression of the past three months is lifting, it's time to get out and make some new friends.

Stress Reduction: Meditation works well for me and I've done it all my adult life, but off and on. It's been off since I arrived Oregon and since I'm naturally a bit tightly wound, meditation here I come – if that phrase is not an oxymoron.

I've had a little fun with my five-point list, but I am serious about it. I'm sure I'll screw up, but I know from past experience that trying leads to improvement and practice can become habit. The trick for me is to establish good habits; I am happiest inside my head and too lazy physically.

Throughout the rest of the book, Dr. Butler supplies many doable strategies for us to choose from to improve and maintain our health during late life. There are no quick-fix nostrums with clever names designed to sell books in airports, but there is nothing, either, that is not attainable.

“The following pages,” writes Butler at the end of the introduction, “contain authoritative, accessible, and practical advice, which adds up to a prescription for maximum physical, intellectual and emotional health during the aging years...

“You will learn about stress, social and intimate involvements, sleep and other matters than have powerful and direct impact on the aging process. You will need to make changes, to discipline yourself to reach out and embrace new activities.

“A plan will emerge, a prescription for a longer, healthier life.”

One of the many things I like about Dr. Butler is that he not only makes me believe I can make changes, he makes me want to.

Okay, your turn. And be sure to read Chapter 1: Maintain Mental Vitality for next week.

The Longevity Prescription Series
A Proposal
Chapter 1: Mental Vitality
Chapter 2: Nurture Your Relationships/a>
Chapter 3: Seek Essential Sleep

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Ellen Younkins: Summer Poem


I too just finished the first chapter, and took the longevity check, rather pleased with myself that I did well,with 62 pts The challenge for me is to keep it up--it takes effort to be faithful with exercise, as well as taking the time to prepare and purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. And I do love my wine, so gotta cut that down! But I'm inspired! Thank you so much for recommending this book.

I missed your original notice about reading Dr. Butler's book, but I'm very interested and will get a copy. I've never been in denial about aging, but I've certainly managed to ignore health issues. I was sure I was perfectly healthy until two years ago when heart disease hit. It took me a long time to come to terms with it; I still don't really want to believe it, even though I now exercise, I've lost some weight and I go through those frequent blood tests. I had to get a cardiologist who is a drill sergeant in disguise, because I couldn't behave with Dr. nice guy.

My feeling about longevity is that I don't care how long I live, I just want to make sure I'm still moving and independent while I'm breathing.

Thanks for everything you bring to us. You are performing a terrific service. I wish I lived in Portland so I could come to your meetup.

I took the quiz, but now forgotten where I fell in the scale.

I have never smoked, but I have been around second-hand smoke from infancy through to my first marriage, break for 5 years, then remarried to a smoker for another 24 years exposed to in-house second-hand smoke again.

Kman doesn't smoke, for that I am more than grateful. I doubt I would have even considered a (third and last) partner who did so.

Physical exercise - lousy at that

Have a great partner whom I adore.

Social life - Kman and I are pretty much a twosome 90% of the time, we don't have close friends whom we socialize with more than a weekend or so a year. Might consider changes there. We do, however, have a large combined family with nearly all living within 10 miles of us.

Stress reduction - ha, see the paragraph above. Kman and I have battled some serious life-threatening illnesses this year, and that is an ongoing, but brightening issue. We both have mothers over the age of 80, one in almost frail health, the other okay but facing a hip replacement this month.

We have a couple of married kids who are a worry - one with a major cash flow problem, and the other with a major bad marriage, addictions, cash flow crunch and three kids. Both are BIG stressors for me, but I don't know how to handle the situation any different. All the right words won't take the worry from my brain that plagues me during the day as well as at night.

I would say that stress and inactivity are my big hurdles. I know the prescription but seem unable to take my own medicine.

Sheesh. I have good intentions, but my personal road to hell has been well paved.

Maybe ya'll can cyber kick my butt....


As some truth-teller, whose name and face won't come to mind, told me a long time ago, you can't fix everything at once. I'm pretty sure he or she was referring to my vow of the moment to lose 10 pounds and quit smoking at the same time.

An enormous value of Dr. Butler's book that will become more evident as we work through the chapters, is that there are so many suggestions and so much emotional support from him that you will be able, if you stick with it, to pick and choose what you can reasonably do - a step at a time.

You're more than a decade younger than I am and if you start now, the dividends as you age will be even greater.

Oh, dear. I had no idea I could be such a cheerleader - or is it a nag.

I fall down miserably in the exercise requirement. I have good intentions and they last about a week; then I am back to my lazy habits again. The past is not a good prognosis for the future. I wish I could say that I will mend my ways, but it's not going to happen.

I am pragmatic and have never been in denial about growing old. However, my social life is almost non-existent. I do not seem to require one anymore and am content to be alone. Maybe my attitude on that mitigates the damage of not having a wide support group. Or perhaps I should make more of an effort to reach out. I have two very good and supportive friends that are there when I need them, but my family are all in other States and are busy with their lives.

I do admit that I miss doing some fun things and I miss being able to travel most of all. Being pragmatic I accept the fact that it is no longer possible and the desire is faint. I never dwell on 'what could be'.

My children have been through some very stressful times and that causes a little stress on me, but I am not a worrier by nature and I recognize that they are the ones who have to cope with their problems and I cannot do much other than offer emotional support.

I must be doing something right because my mother was 67 when she died and my father was 75. I did, however, have 2 great grandmothers who lived to be in their 8o's. I think that would translate to being nearly 100 years old by today's standard.

After reading the intro to Dr. Butler's book, I felt that the first idea that I could work on was meditation. Ronni, you mention that you have used meditation in the would be helpful to me to know what technique you used and perhaps, some of your readers who have meditated could offer some suggestions.
Nana, I love my wine, too, so please don't suggest giving that up! Gladys


Your comment reminds me that one of the best reasons for elders to blog, which we have discussed here in the past but not recently, is for the social life that grows with it.

When we stop working, we lose the daily camaraderie of the workplace. Old friends and relatives die. And over time many, like you, lose the capability to get out and about easily.

(And by the way, judging from the astonishingly beautiful slideshows you send, you haven't stopped traveling; you just found a new way to do it.)

I am now beyond counting my friends in cyberspace without whom, now, I would be bereft. You, Cowtown Pattie, Frank, Peter, Nancy, Millie, Marian, Marion - well, it makes no sense to try to list you all.

Everyone of you enhance my life, expand my knowledge, support me emotionally and make me laugh and I know it is so for you.

It may not the same as having the crew of friends we ran with in younger days, but after seven years in the blogosphere, I can no longer imagine my life without you and everyone else.

Given the restrictions that sometimes come with age, blogging is an excellent replacement for traditional social life.


I practice what is called simple meditation. There are other variations, but they are all similar.

An excellent information source on meditation with good explanations and instruction can be found here.

Book arrived 5 minutes ago in the mail. Will have to do my first assignment this evening. Hmm, or tomorrow as today is my husband's 60th b'day.
Back to work for now. I don't wanna, it's a gorgeous day. Oh well.

Thanks for doing this Ronni, no you're not a nag. You are certainly a catalst and a centerpoint. I got the book Friday and took it to Portland with me. Looking forward to the new get together date. I've been in Portland twice and Hillsboro in the last three weeks. I'm sure I can make it.

I scored a 55, higher than I expected as I am big zero for exercise, new friends, and weight. I am solidly in the middle of the overweight scale but after getting treatment this winter for diabetes ll and sleep apnea, I did shed 25 pounds and left the edge of the obese. Its an adjustment to my reality to admit I have those things, I'm asthmatic too but consider myself healthy for the most part, now healthy includes being vigilant and not denying that some things don't work as well as they did. I found out the Y here will give a free month at the gym based on the diabetes diagnosis. Walla Walla in high summer is like living in Mordor, hot and smoky and us wheezoids are asking to be struck down by the eye of Sauron if we walk outside. So this gift from the Y will get me started until the worst subsides.

The last two of my five items are working on stress reduction, and continuing to work on our marriage which has been pretty stressful of itself lately. We are in counseling now.

...catalyst, I can't spell either.

Pleased with my scoring until I hit #9. Made AT LEAST one new friend..communicate regularly?? I'm a loner. I have my dear husband of 45 yrs. and we have 3 kids, all married and 10 grandkids. Life is good and we all get along well. We have a few friends but we see eachother every now and then. I have to go out and beat the bushes for more? Cripes.
Wasn't tickled with "..3 or more times a wk leave home to interact.." That's a tall order.
Let's hear a cheer for the introverts who simply require less of the same high quality socializing.
I came in at a score of 60.

Walla Walla in high summer is like living in Mordor, hot and smoky and us wheezoids are asking to be struck down by the eye of Sauron if we walk outside.

Well, then, Celia, I must live in Mordor made me laugh at loud at work and now all the suits are trying to pretend they didn't hear me.

(I am pretty nonexistent to them UNTIL something goes wrong and the commode won't flush yadda yadda...)

Note to self: get a new light green doo-rag to go with the new Coldwater Creek jacket...


I'm catching up! I just ran out at lunch and bought the book.

In all honesty I'm not much into self-improvement--pretty much by now what you see is what you get. However, I think Dr. Butler's approach of making some adjustments to daily life is doable. I came in at 51 on the index--barely acceptable (which has been used to describe more than one aspect of my life...) No real surprises on what needs improvement:
Exercise--not going to happen
Build a strong social network--I really prefer cats to people but will at least try to be nice. OK, I can volunteer at the Brazos Bend State Park nature center but only because there are more alligators there than people.
Daily Multivitamin, Mineral supplement, and baby aspirin--now that I can start doing. See I'm improving already.

OK. I am going to have to read the book. But I know what it will say. My weight is good, my diet is good, my activity level appalling. I have many close family members, a good partner, and many new Internet friends. The stress following my divorce is finally fading away.

It's all about the exercise. The problem being that I write now when I used to work out - in the morning. I have to figure it out.

And I love the plain-voiced statement. We're aging. When I said on my blog that at 53 I am in the late summer of my life, everyone rushed to say no I wasn't. But I am. That still leaves a wonderful fall and a quiet winter, with any luck.

Book is ordered from the library. I hope they have it for me when I get home in a week ...

I scored 62, but I have an advantage that would normally be seen as a disadvantage. Five years ago I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Further tests last year showed that I actually have Type 1 Diabetes.
Eating – anything – became a challenge. I had never read the labels on foods. I read them now. I’ve become a math whiz at calculating carbohydrates (when there’s a label, figuring out the non labeled stuff is another story).
Long story, short… Eating wisely and exercising regularly (I have to be honest, not so much the last few weeks. I’m hoping to get inspired here) has changed how I feel. And I feel pretty good!
Living well with Type 1 Diabetes is not an easy task but, it’s doable.

My changes…
1- Exercise
Gotta get back to the gym. I have a treadmill. It’s a little dusty right now.
My goal (don’t tell my husband) is to get us both going to the gym on a fairly regular schedule. Egads! I’ve put it in writing? I’m doomed.
2- Mental Muscles
I used to love doing crossword puzzles. Sudoku – no! I’ll never be able to do the NYT puzzles but maybe I’ll get back to puzzling with the Boston Globe puzzles.
(An obituary in our local paper last year noted that the woman who died “completed the Sunday NYT crossword puzzle in ink, every week.” I was impressed!)
3- Eating
Continue to work on healthy eating.
4- Stress
I’d like to get rid of the clutter in our home. It drives me nuts! Think I’ll try just one box/bag a week.
Sorry this is sooooo wordy...

Just ordered the book and will catch up with y'all...

I've not spoken up here before, but I've been an interested and appreciative reader for some time. This book discussion looked interesting, so I ordered the book and whilst I generally like what I've read thus far, I want to take issue on a couple points:

First, I totally agree with the comments from many others that for some of us the supposed vital importance of emotional support and intimate connections (generally defined as spouse and extended family supplemented by a huge network of friends) are overplayed. Not just in this book, either, I've seen similar claims often and found them disturbing. I have always been single, have no children, since my twenties have lived alone, and at 63, have to say that my last intimate relationship ended long ago. To my immense relief at the time. And now I don't expect or seek another. In addition, what relatives I have live far away and are certainly not missed. I like living alone, I like my own company better than that of most other people (dogs excepted), and absolutely require a certain amount of solitude. I have human friends whom I value and I socialize (in person) regularly and also carry on an extensive e-mail correspondence, but I balk at the notion that in order to be healthy I should leave home to socialize at least three (or any other fixed number) times a week. As for increasing the number of those I count as friends (and I'm pretty exclusive with the term), that's not something that can or should be done to order. Perhaps it's true my attitude will shorten my life, but I am what I am.

Second, I regard most (but not all) allopathic medicine and its drugs with considerable skepticism/caution, and I decline to have the many of the common screenings and tests, which I regard as ranging from meaningless to potentially harmful, and which I believe often lead to overly-aggressive (read unnecessary) intervention via drugs, radiation and surgery. Just my opinion, of course.

In spite of the resulting big zeros I scored 62, which sounds good though I realize it's a result of an often subjective judgement of self. My BMI is 24.35, and as my weight has been edging up for years, I need to watch that. Anyway, it's good to periodically self-examine and there's always room for improvement. As we continue, between the book and the comments, I hope for some insight and a lot of entertainment.

Time to lighten up... From Blog of Ages written by George Phenix: "Successful aging, I think, is doing the best with what you have left without too much whining. Not dying. That's what I would call successful aging."

Thanks for the comments, Ronni and everyone. We're part of each other's social network. It becomes harder to keep old friends after you move, or make new ones as you age, so blogs and Facebook are great for older people. The latter helps me keep in touch with my scattered family, whom I dearly love but seldom see.

Like so many others, I spend much time alone or with my husband, but we do get out with friends a few times a year. I like to be around people but don't feel any great need for an active social life.

Wish I could slow down my "monkey mind" and meditate--will have to work on that. It has no problem keeping busy!

Weight is okay, diet not terrific as it's become hard to digest raw fruit and veggies, and exercise is difficult. I'm lucky to keep moving! Garden, chores, pets, etc., provide some activity. Still, I can't complain. Looking forward to reading along with you all.

Thanks again for suggesting this, Ronni, and glad you're feeling better! Keep enjoying that lovely green scenery outside your window.

My father, Frank, who died last month at the age of 91 had one piece of wisdom that he passed on to me. "Want to know the secret of long life?" he ask me. "Sure," I'd say. His reply: "Don't die."

Finally got around to ordering the book today so I can join the TGB Bloggers' Book Club. My views may not be generally accepted and may change a bit after I've read the book, but I think there may be something to be said for denial--as long as it doesn't enter the realm of the ridiculous. It's not that I don't recognize I'll soon be 74, but what's the harm in shaving off 7-10 years if I can?!

Physically, I'm in reasonably good shape: just under 5'3" tall and 98#. I try to walk about 2 miles 4-5 days a week, and build activity into my daily routine, which includes caring for our 3 cats. I lost 80# in my early 20's, and it was tough even then. I made up my mind to keep the weight off just so I wouldn't have to lose it again. Salads are my mainstay meal. (Note: I don't always stick to this. I had a chili dog for dinner tonight--how bad is that!) Haven't smoked in 40+ years, and even when I used to, I often ended up coughing my fool head off while trying to inhale. Since this completely destroyed the sophisticated woman-of-the-world image I was hoping to create, I quit.

I still work part time for the nonprofit where I've been employed since 1975. I'm supremely fortunate to have the World's Best Husband. At 80, he has a physique many 50 year olds would envy and is basically in good health. He's just a wonderful man--kind, generous, intelligent, wise and patient with me. We're both basically introverts and are pretty much each other's social life, which is fine with us (as several other responders have also noted about their spouse/partner). We also have great neighbors.

I've never been successful at meditation and probably won't be starting now, but I'm looking forward to reading Dr. Butler's book and joinng the discussion. I can write SHORTER responses, really I can!

Ordered my book...I just found out about it today. I will try and catch up. I am skeptical and guarded - especially about the socializing bits. I wax romantic at the thought of being popular and sought after as a friend and, well, I'm just not sure that wandering around with the intention of finding friends is going to be too fruitful of an enterprise especially for me ~ introvert of the year ~ People usually want some kind of social foreplay and I just stand there rather blankly staring at them. They are gone by the time that I figure out I was supposed to say something.

It has been my experience that lashing myself to a bunch of people can be a real drag and if it is not done with a clear head and honorable intention, it can become a real drain. I ENJOY being alone! I also enjoyed smoking cigarettes for 32 years and needed to face that for what it was. Having said that, I DO understand the need to remain open and to focus on my aging as an adventure and a journey - which may mean slaughtering a few sacred cows as I make my count me in on the book thing.

I'm in! I, too, missed the proposal but ordered my book from Amazon today and will get it Friday. I'll catch up and am looking forward to it. I have friends and family I'm social with and can go to the yarn shop and knit with my circle of friends there whenever I want to. From what you wrote about the test, I know more exercise is what I need to do along with eating better.

Good idea, Ronni! Thanks for suggesting this and following through on it.

I'm skipping the intro and going into the mental cognition chapter. I scored 47, so plenty of room for improvement.

Like many of you, I live alone and haven't had an intimate (sexual) relationship in decades. I don't know if the harm that does is negotiable; I think - maybe I'll check this - that it's a statistical correlation rather than a demonstrated cause-effect relationship.

I still work full-time; does anybody else? I'm 59. I got interested in this blog as a way to learn from people older than I am, about what to expect. It's Ronni's great writing - and, importantly, the length of her posts -- that keep me coming back.

Cile, welcome to INTROVERTS, INC. I've been one all my life and was lucky enough to meet and marry another one 30+ years ago. Back when I was (a lot) younger, I lived a lifestyle that was neither healthy nor authentic in my quest to be popular. No more, thank goodness. I think we introverts may do better socializing online than in a crowd. I'd be interested in what other responders think about this.

Mary J., with 74 fast approaching, I no longer work full time, but I did until I was 66. I then went to 30 hrs/wk and about five years ago to 20 hrs/wk. Part of those hours are in my home office (no commute!) and part are onsite at the nonprofit where I work. It's a terrific deal for me and works well for my employer, too. Given the budget problems our state is having, I don't know what my fate will be in 2011, but I hope to continue.

See? A shorter post!


Very interesting....but I don't care - whatever is meant to be is meant to be...I enjoy my 4 or 5 cigs @ day and since I am 67 and relatively healthy, I'll live till its time to go...I have Syd for 47 years and if he goes first, then I'll probably leave, as well. I say probably...because when push comes to shove - I'll deal with it. God Bless You, Ronni and readers - you are all too ambitious for this old bird.

I'm astounded that I got 56 on that quiz! Up until this year I did not exercise much except for the occasional walk, but I joined the Y in February and discovered water aerobics. It's great because I can get the exercise without getting all hot and sweaty and then reward myself with a hot tub. I feel all warm and tingly afterwards! Now I'm up to 5 days a week of this, and try to get a nice walk in on the off days. I'm still overweight, but I feel like I'm getting more physically fit.

I posted my comments on the introduction to Longevity Prescription on my blog

I am very much enjoying reading the book. It certainly is motivating and inspiring.

I thought it was humerous that the free introductory sample from Kindle stopped just after the lognevity index questionis. It was a cliff hanger :-)

Well, I think that reading all these comments counts as "getting out and meeting new people," don't you?

I don't usually pay much attention to self improvement books and I really don't like book groups in general, but I'll follow whatever path you're taking, Ronni, so here I am.

I'm a 57 and that feels about right. As long as this is my virgin experience (had to fit sex in here somewhere!) with this kind of thing, I've decided to be brutally honest within manageable limits. I'm going to have that conversation I've been delaying/denying/dreading. I'll get my hearing checked and investigate assistive devices. More veggies and sweaty aerobic exercise and finally tackling those over-stuffed closets and that's my 5.

Stating them in public is huge. Now that it's out there, and we're all in it together, maybe, just maybe, it'll actually happen.

Thanks, Ronni, for capturing me for this adventure in mindful aging.

Inactivity has been my no:1 problem area and this also leads to other areas of concern.I am resolving to work on this issue.Thanks Ronni.

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