In my news feed yesterday was this editorial piece by Ann Brenoff titled Who Wants To Be 100 Anyway? The irony of the question juxtaposed with my blog’s mantra, “Biohacking internet blogger trying to figure out secret to healthy life into his 100’s” wasn’t lost on me. Sure, it’s a rhetorical question, which she answered in the negative. I can see why she would say that from her point of view, and she’s entitled to her opinion. I just vehemently disagree with her.
There is a sad, unhappy version of being 100 that she has in mind, which she lays out pretty solidly. It’s the life of perpetual decrepitness and boredom. In her version, each day you have to find something to do so you don’t lose your mind with boredom and think back to all the things you used to be able to do that you can no longer do. She sees a perpetual struggle of trying to fight the visual effects of aging and not even recognizing yourself in the mirror as the young vibrant person you once were. If that is the version of being 100 she sees, I understand why she’d never want to get there.
The truth is that we can hit that stage at any age in our life. There are people in their 40’s who have wrecked their bodies, can barely walk and look like an extra from the walking dead. There are people who have had to deal with disease or accidents which severely damaged their bodies and put them on the long hard road to recovery, of which they have a daily struggle with. There are people that look perfectly fine but go about having radical plastic surgery procedures or go on crazy diets to try to fight off the aging process. You don’t have to be 100 to fall into the state she envisions, it happens to be people at all ages.
Like most other people on the planet, I don’t relish the idea of being too weak or worn out to be able to run, or to have to deal with the ever increasing ailments that you collect as you get older. I don’t want to live to be 70 if that means I’m wheelchair bound, subsisting on dozens of pills and machines to keep me going. It’s not age that we are talking about having an aversion to, it’s weakness, disease and pain. It’s the idea that for decades of our lives we will live in perpetual misery using every medical aid available from modern society to hold off a death we really don’t want to have to deal with.
A better view of living to be 100 would be to head over to Okinawa, the home of one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. I first saw a documentary on them and then read books on them a decade or so ago. These people are pushing 100 or even over 100. Where are there walkers, train of pills or tricks to fight boredom? They are nowhere to be found. These centenarians aren’t sitting at home watching a clock on the wall, or the television. They are going out fishing. By fishing, I don’t mean they have a line and a poll and sit on a cooler sipping a beer. I mean they are going dive fishing, for hours each day. Why? Because that’s what they’ve always done. These people were out swimming and diving the producers and video staff that were literally a third of their age! They had a zest for life because they built a life that let them do that. They weren’t geniuses that had read a book or followed a guru, it’s just the way they lived.
Small things we do every day add up to big impacts on our body. The cigarette you had when you were 16 years old when you were trying smoking since all your friends did, won’t hurt you. Have a pack a day habit for decades; yeah that’ll do a number on you. Sit on your butt all day every day and never get your body moving, that’ll do a number on you too. Part of what I’m trying to do here is figure those things out without killing myself. I have strong longevity genes on both sides of the family so I if I take care of myself right I should have a vibrant long life. But if I waste that opportunity by abusing my body, all bets are off.
Along with dealing with the actual care and upkeep of your body, it’s also important to have the right mindset. Dr. Andrew Weil wrote a great book on this topic, Healthy Aging: A lifelong guide to your well being. In it he covers rethinking the entire concept of aging. If one is always taking a looking back at the past or forward into the future one misses the present. That’s a staple Buddhist teaching. However applied to aging it’s a very important concept. We need to embrace where we are today, not lament how much better we could do something in the past. Likewise, we need to stop trying to fast forward to some supposedly dim and dismal future with all sorts of medical calamities befalling us. Any changes to our lives and body happen incrementally. If you embrace them as they come you will see them in a much more positive light. The alternative of perpetual youth our society holds up as the model isn’t just unrealistic it is completely one dimensional. Imagine a world where the only cheese is fresh mozzarella, the only songs were the ones published this year and the only wines were from this year. Age refines as much as it diminishes, if not more.
Embracing youth as the only state of happiness won’t make you happy, it will make you depressed and neurotic. You are already old, as am I, by some artificial standard. I can’t do all the things I could do when I was 16, but I can do a lot of things that seemed impossible to me when I was 16. I have more aches and pains than I did when I was 16, but I also have more knowledge and have experienced more things than was even in my field of view at that age. I have lots of battle wounds from when things haven’t happened the way I had thought or hoped, but I’m no less satisfied by where I am because some apparition of what I thought the best future would be didn’t happen. I could have chosen to be miserable about not hitting that mirage, but instead I find contentment in the things I’ve seen and done.
“Who wants to be 100?” is the wrong question. The real question is, “Who wants to be infirm and miserable in their end years?” I can safely guess the answer to that question is that no one wants to. Instead I don’t concentrate on an age cap, I concentrate on how to keep life going the best I can so I can live more like the 100+ year old Okinawa fishermen and savor life for each of the many decades past middle age that I will have.