Unlocking the mystery of a long life

This past weekend, I saw How to Live Forever, a documentary looking at various avenues and theories to living a  long  life.  Bessie lived to 108 and I have always been struck how someone with such hardship lived so long.  During the post-film discussion, Mark Wexler, the director, and Jay Olshansky, a UIC professor whose highly regarded expertise and research focuses on aging, longevity, and other related topics, took questions. Mark Wexler directed, narrated, and appeared the film.

One of the approaches presented in the film was the low calorie intake diet  – as in about 1200 calories a day. In one scene, Mark Wexler is presented a meal of a few peas, a slice of a yellow pepper, and some other small portion of a vegetable. The audience laughed at his attempts to put his fork on a single pea.  In the post-film discussion, however, Dr. Olshansky indicated (this is not verbatim, but what I understood –  so no clamoring against Dr. Olshansky, please!) that there are theories that the low-calorie diet has an effect only if done early in life. So, adopting this lifestyle later in life will not have the same efficacy.  These circumstances were often not of choice and unlikely to be replicated.

How does this relate to Bessie? Bessie’s tenure at the Cleveland Jewish Orphan Asylum was from the age of 10 to 16. She then lived at a boarding house called “Martha House” until at least for another 4 years until 1920 (census record to be posted soon).  Perhaps this is what contributed to her long life.  Or maybe not.


About Shy Surmiser
Chicago resident since 1994.

One Response to Unlocking the mystery of a long life

  1. Hi Linda. There is no question that Bessie in the film won the genetic lottery at birth — that was the most important factor that contributed to her exceptional longevity. I don’t know whether she was calorically restricted when she was younger, but if she was, it is theoretically possible that it might have contributed somewhat to her greater longevity. However, no amount of caloric restriction is going to enable a person whose body would ordinarily run out of steam at age 80, for example, to live another 28 years. She had to have the potential for her high longevity at conception.
    Mark’s film was delightful, and he’s not the only one to make a funny face at a calorically restricted diet. There’s an old saying in the field — caloric restriction may not make you live any longer, but it’ll sure seem like it. Having said that, most of us would be better off if we were carrying fewer pounds of fat.
    S. Jay Olshansky

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