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