I just read yet another article about a person who was celebrating a centenarian-plus birthday. As always happens, the aging individual was peppered with questions from the press about how it happened that they had managed to live so long.
These articles drive me nuts. I don’t know why I even read them, except that I am, perhaps, slightly masochistic.
I always long to reach out and grab the questioners by their collars and shake them silly. “For the love of heaven!” I want to shout. “They’ve lived this long because they got a lucky shake in the gene pool! And they were fortunate enough to avoid fatal accidents and survive epidemics! That’s why they are still alive!”
No matter what these centenarians claim when responding to inane questions, their longevity wasn’t really due their habit, however enjoyable, of having a shot of single malt daily – or flossing their teeth every morning – or even due to an irrepressibly sunny nature which saw the silver lining in every event, from the mundane to the dreadful, throughout a lifetime. Those things may (or may not) have contributed to their longevity, but the simple answer is: They got lucky.
They got genes that did not switch on diabetes or clogged arteries. Their bodies recognized cancer cells and immediately shut them down. They were the product of long-lived ancestors. They didn’t drink enough to destroy their livers with cirrhosis, and if they tried various illegal or potentially addictive drugs, they had the intelligence to recognize the their peril and stopped. They gave birth easily or had great medical care and so didn’t die in childbirth. They had strong immune systems. They were wise enough to choose spouses who did not abuse them. They rarely took unnecessary physical risks. There was no way to take selfies, so they didn’t pose at the edge of the cliff—and, anyway, they were bright enough not to go near the edge of the cliff in the first place. They had access to birth control and so weren’t worn out by constant childbearing. They were prescribed antibiotics to beat the very infections that once slaughtered thousands. They either didn’t encounter or survived house fires, muggings, wars, car accidents, or a myriad of other assorted personal disasters which could have ended their existence.
Good nutrition may have played a role in their survival, but here’s one thing I’ve noticed from reading about many of these survivors: Often these long-lived people began life in dirt-poor conditions, eating only subsistence rations. Nor can an absence of stress or tragedy explain their longevity, for many have lived lives so filled with calamity that an ancient Greek playwright would shudder.
So before I have to read another of these mindless stories asking, “How did you live so long?”, here’s the answer, short and simple: If you want to live long and prosper, choose the right ancestors. Pick the right DNA. Behave wisely.
And get lucky. Very, very lucky.