A gentleman called Martin Fischer is attributed with the quote, “Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die”.

It seems a wry and wise enough remark, however what looks like a simple, solid and sound comment turns out to be riddled with holes – just like so much else in the world of health and fitness!

I’ve always thought the one language in the world I would least like to learn from scratch is English. It is so full of immutable laws and rules that stand fast as correct grammar…except when they don’t. Except for those inexplicable contrary rules that crop up every now and again and overturn everything you previously learned…for no apparent reason! I suppose it all adds to the challenge and is part of an evolving 1500 year old language.

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The same observation can be applied across so many aspects of life. Just when we think we have got it, just when we believe there is no room for manoeuvre and prevarication, just when we are grasping at the definite, something or someone sends us back to the drawing board scratching our heads.

And this is never more the case than in the worlds of health and fitness where a principle or method or fact is precisely that…until somebody decides it isn’t! Sometimes that is simply down to the power of the marketing man and sometimes it is thanks to a university researcher in some far flung land who has realised the best way to make a quick name for himself is to broadcast some sensational pronouncement based on eyebrow raising research methods. Sometimes it is simply because we take longer to arrive at absolute facts. And on other occasions it is because, well…we just don’t know it all and life is always ready to present us with an anomaly.

Gertrude Baines became the world’s oldest person when she reached 115. Inevitably there was plenty of media interest in the woman from Georgia, USA and equally inevitably the press was eager to announce her secret of long life. She credited her faith and nothing more.

Often though we will hear of something that flies in the face of all medical understanding and health ‘sense’. This of course is always the way. There is no story in pointing out that regular exercise, sensible eating, moderate drinking and not smoking is the answer to a centenarians continued health.

What we do hear about are the dietary quirks designed to fire up breakfast table debates and to arm the anti-fitness brigade with some useful ammunition. Here are some examples:

Britain’s 113-year-old Florence Baldwin says her secret is a daily fried egg sandwich.

Mitoyo Kawate of Japan says she has reached 114 thanks to a regular ingestion of custard cakes.

Lucy D’Abreu is reported to have said her 113 years resulted from a daily tipple of brandy and ginger ale.

Ukraine’s Hryhoriy Nestor believes he made it through the 100 barrier because of his diet of sausage in bread, cabbage and potato.

Yuckichi Chuganji lived to 114 despite a lifelong aversion to vegetables.

Ada Mason of Yorkshire made it to 111 and perhaps trumps the lot with her diet of “bread and dripping every day – lots of it – with lots and lots of salt on”.

So what does all of this prove? Firstly it makes good newspaper copy. Secondly it backs up my point that for every ‘rule’ there is an equal and opposite rule! It also suggests that even the most evangelical nutritionist has to admit that the food we eat only goes so far towards prolonging our lifespan.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey of the Methuselah Foundation admits there are still so many grey areas when determining the diets influence on longevity. “We know what shortens life – smoking and being overweight for example.  But those living to a grand old age of 100 plus are probably doing so because of their very formative years – their mother’s good nutrition when carrying them and a lack of stress in very early life.

“It’s these early factors that are likely to have the most dramatic effect rather than popping supplements and cod liver oil later on”. He added, “If there’s one thing about centenarians it’s that nothing seems to bother them”.

It is often said that a relaxed and optimistic demeanor plus plenty of laughter is the answer to a happy and long life and maybe that’s what more of us should be striving for rather than some ‘Holy Grail’ in supplement form or dietary combination.

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What should also be remembered is that these centenarians were laying the grounds for a long life well before nutritionists, physiologists, sports scientists, multigyms and elliptical trainers existed. Their minds weren’t cluttered with methodologies and shifting instructions and it is a reasonable assumption to say they lived hardy and active daily lives – far more so than the average person today and far less bound up in the endless complexities of modern life that we’ve created for ourselves.

What they were doing – which is something we must attempt to relate to – was ‘the basics’. They were active and physical and primarily outdoors.  Play as a child was active and day to day life as an adult was active. Despite the food anomalies highlighted earlier the chances are they ate in an uncomplicated fashion, had a sense of purpose, kept themselves busy and minimized fretting and agitation. They may have been simpler times in some respects but they were a lot harder in other ways.

Gertrude Baines was in her physical prime around 1924 – her adolescence would have been dominated by the First World War and the horrors of WWII were only 15 years away. It hardly sounds like a life entirely free from stress – the two biggest global conflicts in history by the age of 40!

So if you find yourself getting tied up in knots and searching for a quick answer or latest tone-up tonic or weight loss breakthrough, take a breath, relax, remind yourself of the basics and apply them. Whatever thinking comes and goes and whatever messages are gospel one minute and debunked the next, we can be sure we are doing the right things by us if we adhere to the simple principles of movement and moderation.

We will always need guidance, encouragement, motivation, pointers and fresh ways of looking at things, but we don’t need the quest for longevity to get out of hand. If we do we’ll only add to the list of modern day self imposed stresses that will ironically derail our goal anyway.

Keith Richards has unapologetically lived the ultimate rock and roll life for most of his 70+ years and seemingly done everything in his power to get rid of his life. Yet after 50 years in the business he is still embarking on arduous world tours and putting in superb performances. Not long ago he fell a significant height out of a tree and suffered serious head injuries. Within weeks he was up and about, smoking, drinking and rocking.

Since that, fit and healthy 45-year-old actress Natasha Richardson took an innocuous tumble on a nursery ski slope. She got up, laughed about it, chatted and was dead less than 36 hours later.

Such things make you realise that our lives operate within fine lines and often on the margins of logic. Stick to the basics, where possible remove the agitations and strains from your life, laugh often and who knows…you maybe talking to the press in 2071 and telling them the secret lies in jam roly poly and a daily pint of stout!

 

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