Vigor and Longevity is a Matter of Choices
As one trained in “the scientific method”, I am perhaps luckier than the
average bear in finding a path through the forest of misinformation and
pseudo-science. The heart of true science is clear observation of facts and
their repeatable verification, which includes testing of the hypotheses
under many conditions.
Maintaining health and vigor is a combination of
lifestyle, environment, and good genes. I have plenty
of bad genes; I can paper the walls with the names of
relatives who’ve succumbed to cancer, stroke, heart attack,
But I also know that environment has much to do with whether these “bad
genes” will be turned on. Both experientially and by extensive study, I
have found the key factors in not only prolonging life but also remaining
vigorous and healthy to the end. You can’t change your genes, but you can
protect them and survive what life throws your way.
second key to success in health and longevity is ACTIVITY. Call it
exercise or manual labor or sport, but it boils down to moving that body of
yours around so the muscles retain tone and strength, and the heart and
lungs benefit, too. I maintain a big vegetable garden, mow over an acre of
lawn with a push mower, and cut perhaps a hundred cords of wood for winter
heat. I climb steep hills behind my house, and exercise my dogs by foot and
bike. German Shepherd Dogs need miles of running a few times a week because competing in German-style shows requires great stamina on the parts of
handler and dog alike. It’s not like traipsing around in a little AKC or UKC
ring a couple of times with little Foo-Foo on a pink leash. Handling in
rings up to the size of a football field, and working Schutzhund routines
require one to be in pretty good shape, and practice is the only way to get
By the way, such outdoor activity also benefits by exposing you to enough
sunlight so the body manufactures a good amount of Vitamin D. (see sidebar)
My third piece of advice is to get rid of the alarm clock. One of the worst
effects of working for a living is developing the habit of a little regular
(but not minor) sleep deprivation. If you need an alarm clock, you
are not getting enough sleep, and I’ll bet you aren’t hitting the sack early
enough in the evening. We gave up the TV in 1966, and found that we rarely
thereafter needed the alarm (except when I had a very early flight to a
judging assignment). “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy,
etc.” is very true up to that part of the rhyme.
Fourth, it helps tremendously to know how to handle stress. Physical work or
something strenuous such as jogging can reduce emotional stress and give you
time to talk to yourself about what’s bugging you. Conversely to what you’ve
probably heard, stress itself can actually be good for you (I mention
exercise, which is a way of stressing the body). It’s the inability to
manage it — the being overwhelmed by stress, that is harmful.
There are hundreds of self-help solutions offered that range from
transcendental meditation to prayer to foot massage to simply counting to
ten; or you could invent your own technique. You have to continually remind
yourself what life’s priorities are, and to not “sweat the small stuff”.
Now, I can hear you saying, “That’s impossible advice to follow when an AKC
rep is slinking around the ring while you’re judging”, but the principle is
still valid. Stress is bad only when there is no outlet for it or you are
frustrated in your attempts to handle it.
Finally, and something I think is both extremely
important and will be
rejected by most of you who are prone to piecemeal suicide (you’ve heard the
phrase “death by chocolate”?), is a major lifestyle change in the area of
nutrition. Most Americans are overweight and are poisoning themselves with
what they (you) eat and drink. I’m sure that 99% are going to tune out
halfway through this paragraph, but just try to keep up with me when you get
to be my age, and maybe I’ll listen to you.
Processed food (much of which is not really food) can be very bad for you,
but the effects are so gradual that it’s easier to see the hour hand moving
on an analog clock. People of all ages are swilling great volumes of such
non-essential or deleterious fillers and additives as high-fructose corn
syrup, saccharides, preservatives, residual insecticides and hormones,
cholesterol, saturated fats, high-gluten foodstuffs, and pretending they are
putting something nutritious into their bodies.
I am convinced that my backyard “victory garden” (almost what faddists would
call “organic”) gives me most of what I need for health, but I also
supplement for the sake of having an inexpensive “insurance policy” — I take
vitamin E and C for immune system optimization, selenium to help ward off
prostate problems, half an aspirin (when I think of it) for my
cardio-vascular functions, and a “multi” just in case I don’t get as
balanced a diet as I should on some days. But it is primarily what I don’t
eat and what I do, that keeps me from the problems so many people a couple
decades younger than I are complaining about.
Originally done to lose some paunch gained after years of being “on the
road”, I cut out salad dressing and red meat, and immediately lost almost 20
pounds. This was a long time ago, and I have not missed the beefsteaks and
burgers one bit. Nor do my salads need oil, just vinegar. What fat and oil I
consume is limited to olive oil on my whole-grain bread or to fry my omelets
or rattlesnake in. I eat no bacon, very little sausage (only a few times a
year, and as lean as I can get it), fried anything on rare occasions, and
generally stay away from sweets. My diet is color-coded, in a way, since
most of the stuff that’s bad for you is white: fat, sugar, white bread
(stripped of so much that they have to “enrich” it to sell you that
cardboard), Irish potatoes, ice-cream, etc. I eat instead, plenty of green
and orange veggies, and colorful fruit.
My basic diet is a combination of Native American (squash, greens, grains, a
little venison or poultry) and Mediterranean (hard-wheat whole-grain pasta,
tomatoes, olive oil, lots of flavenoid-rich spices and herbs). Every morning
(except the two times a week I have an omelet made with jalapenos and onions
from my garden and mushrooms from my own woods), I have cholesterol-lowering
oatmeal with fruit and black walnuts from my own trees, with plain
live-culture yogurt and a little honey. The amount of meat of all kinds that
we eat is very small.
We don’t use doctors or drugs, we get no more than one little cold every
couple of years, and we know more about our bodies than most physicians
would. Of course, if we needed clinical tests to tell us more than our
education and self-study have, we’d use them. We monitor the important
things every couple years at an annual senior health fair held in a town not
very far away. Blood-pressure cuffs at a Wal-Mart, if repeated, are as
reliable as those used by the nurse in a doctor’s office. If you can read,
can learn how to become aware of your body, and take proper care of it, you
can safely cut out almost all the reasons that health care and insurance
costs have become astronomical.
If you wish to contest my formula, gather a random group of my chronological
peers (in their early-to-mid seventies), and test us with much more than a
shuffleboard game or wheelchair race. I’ll even pit myself against those
much younger in years. It’s a challenge, a gauntlet that this singular
septuagenarian is happy to throw at your feet.
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