Extra long-life is for batteries, not people

A new study making waves in the world of health science has found that switching to a strict vegetarian diet, practicing yoga, and exercising regularly can help regenerate telomeres, a cell component that shortens as part of the ageing process, as reported in the London Independent.
The 25 men in the study were also given stress management and counselling, something most people could probably do with.
Although the study had a small sample size and was carried out specifically on men recovering from prostate cancer, anything that seems to indicate we can reverse the ageing process is like modern-day alchemy, heralded as miraculous. Eternal life? We all want a piece of it.
But hang on a minute, here. For the average spud on the street this means precisely nothing. Forgoing the burgers, trying to chill out a bit and getting up off the couch more regularly could be good for you. It’s hardly a eureka moment, is it?
Last week I watched a documentary on Channel 4 called Fabulous Fashionistas, which featured a number of exciting, fun and incredibly active women in their 70s and 80s. A fashion model (you’ll recognise her from the M&S ads) who was discovered at 70, a choreographer who at 87 is still working, and is married to a man 27 years her junior who doesn’t look as fresh as she does, and a baroness who worked as an intelligence agent during World War Two, are hardly representative of the vast swathe of pensioners, but it was brilliant television. They were great characters, independent spirits and the type of women who don’t dance to anyone else’s tune. They did things they enjoyed doing, every day.
One of them went running every day. I’m 28 and I can’t run without hearing at least one thing crack. The choreographer did yoga every morning for an hour (after getting new knees a couple of years ago). Perhaps it’s something to do with my old-fashioned, fully original, non-bionic knees, but I got up at 6am for yoga just once this week and I’m still exhausted from it. Exercise is good for you. That’s undeniable.
They all exercised, with dancing, yoga, and tai chi all making an appearance, but I also saw them swigging wine, enjoying a good dinner or two, and generally enjoying themselves. They were – as you’d have to be at that age – pretty health conscious. But they were doing healthy things because they enjoyed them, not out of some attempt to prolong their lives – one of them said it strikes her often that “today could be the day”, and she is living each day to enjoy it.
It’s only a matter of time before a smartphone can tell you how long your telomeres are and whether you should have that extra bit of cake or it’s going to take five minutes off your life.
Depending on your interests, of course, by the time that particular five minutes comes around, you will be sitting in a retirement home somewhere being passive aggressive to your ungrateful children, or sucking up to the nurses in the hope of getting a second dessert – to make up for all the ones you said no to.
Don’t get me wrong. I like yoga. And salad. But I also like steak, and cake, and the type of dancing you only do when you’ve definitely had a few too many.
The problem with this obsession with extending youth is that it’s focussing on quantity, rather than quality. A couple of years ago Gillian McKeith was the guru everyone listened to, until we came to our senses and realised that a life spent sifting through your own excrement is, on balance, not worth living.
A boring old person piously reciting their diet comprised almost solely of lentils and quinoa is no more fun to be around than a young person doing the exact same thing while running past you like a Duracell bunny training for the Olympics. Long life is no good to you if you’re so boring nobody wants to be stuck beside you at a wedding, as you disapprovingly watch everyone else necking champagne and chowing down on a big lump of roast beef, while you sip grapefruit juice and pick at a salad.
Extra long life is for batteries, not people, so let the Duracell bunnies do what they do best, and stick with what humans do best – being aware of the things that are really and truly bad for you and mostly avoiding them, but leaving room for yourself to make the odd stupid decision, having a bit of what you fancy, and chilling out for a change. It doesn’t seem to have done the fabulous fashionistas an ounce of harm.


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