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article imageOp-Ed: Can exercise and diet help you live longer?

By Alexander Baron     Jul 4, 2012 in Health
Many are the claims attributed to exercise, but do its benefits count for anything in the long run, or are we better off without it? And does our diet really kill us?
I must stress that this article is purely a personal view, but one based on long and at times painful experience.
Awhile ago, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show where she performed 25 press ups in addition to lauding her lifestyle which involves rising early, and heading straight for the gym. She certainly looks good for her age, and I wouldn't discourage her from a lifestyle which for some reason she finds comfortable. Physical fitness does have its uses. Because she is who she is, she is hardly likely to go out running alone in the park, but if she does and is waylaid by a man in a ski mask - a latter day Antoni Imiela or Ted Bundy - her attacker will receive a nasty surprise.
Having said that, running in the park can be detrimental to one's health in other ways. Two months ago, but for septuagenarian actor Dustin Hoffman, a 27 year old man would have died after he had a heart attack in the middle of a run.
Michelle Obama looked as though she could have done another 25 or even another 50 press ups without too much effort; my personal record, many years ago, is 57. I also ran regularly, from early 1984 until September 1996, when I gave up on medical advice, primarily due to a back injury. A handful of times I had a runner's high; I remember one night, after stretching outside my front gate I took off and ran non-stop for three miles at what seemed to me was breakneck speed but probably wasn't so fast. I have some good memories of this, and after a bath I felt great. Now I bath in the morning, generally after sleeping late.
The non-virtue of exercise came home to me when my friend Chris Tame died aged only 56. Chris ran, did martial arts and took vitamin supplements. He was killed by a horrible form of bone cancer. On the other hand, our friend and his colleague Judith Hatton lived to a fair old age. The most rigorous exercise she ever took was reaching for her cigarettes.
Back in the 1990s, I did some (for me) complex mathematics from statistics compiled from various sources which demonstrated the benefits of exercise. Don't ask me to repeat it, but I concluded that if I exercised regularly to a certain schedule, one far less intense than Michelle Obama's, I would live perhaps two years longer. The punchline was that the exercise itself would take up one of those years.
Then there is diet, much vaunted, but how significant is it? The front page of one of today's tabloids has what appears to be a novel headline, eat 40% less and live longer, it says. That headline has gone all round the world, it is though anything but new. Roy Walford pioneered this form of diet for humans; he called it undernutrition without malnutrition, and it involved heavy supplementation. Linus Pauling was also a great fan of supplementation, especially Vitamin C. Both men lived to a fair old age, but as Aubrey de Grey points out, it is actually a dead end as far as life extention is concerned.
At this point, I recall a joke I heard many years ago. A man goes to his doctor and asks him how he can live longer. Give up sex, alcohol, eating to excess, watching sports and holidays, his doctor replies, or words to that effect. Will that make me live longer, he asks? No, says the doc', but it'll seem like it.
Having said that, there are some things we can do or not do to avoid an early death if not live well into old age. We can avoid being murdered, and avoid accidents, to begin with. That is not intended to be facetious, but while no one deserves to be murdered anymore than any woman deserves to be raped, it has to be said that some people put themselves in situations where they are likely either to be killed or to kill themselves. Simple things like driving too fast contribute to many premature deaths.
Alcohol? I gave up the stuff in 1986 because I realised it was not for me, but that doesn't mean it is not for everyone, but excess should be avoided. Smoking has nothing to recommend it, for most people, but heavy smoking is certainly to be avoided. Judith Hatton was a fairly heavy smoker, but having the odd cigarette if only to stick up two fingers to the anti-smoking lobby and health fascists as Sean Gabb does, well, that won't kill you.
Eating too much, ie pigging out regularly, can't really do you any good, so that too should be avoided.
Recreational drugs? Avoid them. And homosexuality - don't get me started on that one, but read the medical literature then tell me I'm wrong. Sodomy shortens lives, period. Stress? Some people thrive on it. Suicide? Been there, nearly done that more than once. It is a surprisingly common cause of death, even for successful and apparently happy people.
Overall, it is my firm belief that if you can avoid these sort of pitfalls, it is mostly down to genetics, and in support of that I offer four names: Lord Denning, the Queen Mother, Bob Hope and Irving Berlin.
Lord Denning and Bob Hope both lived to a hundred; Denning was Master of the Rolls and had a very active mind. Comedian Bob Hope, likewise. Both Berlin and the Queen Mother lived to a hundred and one. Again, they both had active minds. Although in his twilight years he appears to have been more or less confined to his New York apartment, Berlin's mind remained active well after he ceased publishing new songs. The Queen Mother was known to like a drink or three, and was a very active old bird. She died less than two month's after her daughter (the Queen's sister) Princess Margaret, and I am personally convinced that but for the latter's death, she would have become a supercentenarian, ie lived to a hundred and ten or more.
She doesn't appear to have exercised much if at all, but like her other daughter, the Queen, her workload made formal exercise academic. Even at 85, the Queen is going like an express train, and I am convinced she will outlive her mother.
These admittedly hand selected examples tend to indicate that an active mind is the best way to live to a great age. For all the talk of diets linked to cancer and so on, other factors are largely a matter of luck, good or bad.
There may be another factor, but only for some of us. By rights I should have been dead a dozen or more times, three or four of them by my own hand. Why am I still here? Because I still have work to do. I'll say no more than that because I don't want to be deluged with ridicule or cranks, nor to have the men in white coats knocking at my door, but for some of us, our destiny is written in the stars, and any resultant longevity is not necessarily a personal blessing.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Michelle obama, Exercise, Longevity, roy walford, supercentenarians