Saturday, March 03, 2012

Super Old and Healthy: Fooling Mean Old Mother Nature and Standing Up to No-Good, Sneaky Mr. Gravity .

 Cover design by Alana White. Link

Mother Nature is as mean and selfish as she can possibly be. After we have done what she wants -- breeding and rearing young -- she wants us dead, period.

Same with that old creepy-sneaky, Mr. Gravity, who works nonstop to get us to hang our heads and walk bent over while making us think that the culprit is the laws of physics.

Well, if we put our minds to it, maybe we can turn the tables on these miserable co-conspirators against our having a long, happy, healthy life. Wait a sec. That's the title of my new E-Book, above.  What a coincidence!

How to describe it. Hmmmmm.

Got it. It's a call for mass rebellion against the tyranny of Mother Nature and Mr. Gravity, while challenging conventional thinking about aging and health. It's about how we can dump mindsets about disease, lifespan, and health care, and maybe, just maybe, outlive the hills -- while living it up every precious day.

Let me give you a little taste of the book, with brief samples from it -- starting with what may be common in the near future:

 An Old, Old, Old Comic.

It is Saturday night at the Comedy Palace, a showcase for up and coming new comics. After a parade of 20-something comics, the evening's featured performer enters stage right.

He has long white hair that falls pencil-straight from the sides of his head to his shoulders; there is nothing on top. He's tall and skinny and wizened and smiling ear to ear.

To an audience used to fresh-faced sprigs as young as springtime, this guy is not just old. He's old old old. He is older than anyone in the audience has ever heard of. He is older than any human being could possibly be without being comatose in bed, unable to eat, hear, speak and sustained by tubes and beeping monitors.

He is 119. But instead of creeping on stage all bent over with decrepitude, he bounds on with the same zest as the young comics before him. As the headliner everybody has been waiting for, he is greeted by exuberant applause.

Over the past 19 years, since appearing on television on the occasion of his 100th birthday and exhibiting a vitality remarkable for his years and cracking joke after joke, he has become something of a celebrity.

But he has not forgotten where he came from. He is appearing in his home town. Grabbing the mike, he says, “Hi! Great to be back home among friends. Actually, it's great to be anywhere.”

The hackneyed line, a standard for advanced-agers everywhere, gets him whoops and hollers. He doesn't even have to say, “at my age.” The audience is totally tuned into his shtick.

When the noise dies down, he says, “The wife and I just moved out of the old homestead into something smaller. We waited until the children were all dead.”

Laughter erupts all over again. With a devilish grin, he primes the audience for more. He holds back, playing, teasing. And when they can't wait another second, he hits them again.

And, wouldn't you know, a few weeks later I buried my wife. Had to. Dead, you know.”

The room goes wild.

I went to the doctor the other day and she gave me three months to live. Great, I said. My life expectancy is four days.”

Now the laughter is nonstop.

I'm tired of being widowed. Now that I'm single again and back dating, I'm looking for a wife I won't outlive – say a nice stacked 19-year-old chick with great legs.”

He puts a hand across the top of his forehead and peers out at the audience. “I see a lot great legs out there. What are you girls trying to do, overstimulate me to death?”

By the time he finishes his routine, there are smiles on every face.

A 119-year-old making jokes about old age and death?

Well, maybe not quite yet. But given accelerating medical advances and changing attitudes about age, such a scene may be commonplace sooner than we think.

People 85 and older are the fastest growing age group in America. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2050, the number of people 85 and older will jump to 19 million, from about 4 million today.

The second fastest growing age group? People 100 and over.

In 2002, the U.S Census Bureau counted 58,684 centenarians in the U.S. The Bureau estimates that this number will rise to 1,095,000 by 2050 and could reach as high as 1,634,000. The super old are going to be everywhere. Four out of five will be women.

Among them will be amazing specimens of longevity who will be a lot older than a mere century. Of the planet's six billion human beings today, perhaps a thousand are 110 years old. These super oldsters may become so common, demographers say, that 100-year-olds will be thought of as relative youngsters.

Based upon simple demographic trends, then, some of the ultimate marathoners among us could be 119 some day and giving them a stand-up routine in L.A. If you harbor a secret ambition to become a late, late, late-blooming comedy star, well ...

you better take charge of your health care now.

Bottom line: To get the health care we need, we can’t rely on doctors, insurance companies, so-called medical experts, and the government. It’s up to you and me -- all of us – to get the health care we need and deserve.

As you read this, all kinds of medical experts continue to barrage us with must medicines, procedures, tests, and things-to-do lists for a long, healthy, and happy life. But we can’t just swallow what they say. We have to do our own thinking.

The experts don’t know you the way you do. They don’t know me the way I do. In their writings, they promise more than they can ever deliver -- just to sell books, drugs, procedures, you name it.

Your Body and You

Our body is our most loyal ally. It wants us to live as long as we possibly can. How to help your adaptive immunological warriors fight off disease and keep you healthy.

The human body is without doubt the world's greatest feat of biochemical engineering. Tip of the hat to God or to Mother Nature or to the Intelligent Designer or to a little green alien from some far-off planet in a yet undiscovered far-off galaxy for an over-the-top achievement.

Can you imagine envisioning a human eye? A brain? A nervous system? A digestive system? Ears? A nose? An immune system? Arms and legs? And then having it all come together into a creature like you and me that walks, eats, thinks, talks, writes, loves, reproduces, and forms families, tribes, cities, and nations?

Our original designer had to be one smart cookie. So why did our designer also give us the ability to lie, cheat, steal, rape, kill, and despoil the environment? In health care, these abilities give us crooked health-care studies, greedy insurance companies, hospitals interested more in money than in patients, and people like you and me who have to fight to get the health care we need.

But despair not. We all have a super-qualified, versatile, and dedicated ally: our body. It literally fights to the death for us. It wants us to live as long as our super-old comic and even longer.

In his fine book, “How We Die,” Sherwin Nuland, who has witnessed thousands of deaths as a physician, writes that the body’s immune system fiercely resists the process of death.

When the first line of defense is breached, a second line is thrown into the battle. When the second line fails, a third line rushes to the front, and then a fourth and a fifth, until the body has no troops left. Our body fights to the last immunological soldier.

Take the common cold. Make no mistake, once you have a cold virus, you are under potentially deadly attack. After the cold virus latches onto the nasal cell, it injects its own strand of genetic material into the host cell. The viral DNA or RNA then, in effect, hijacks control of all the cell's functions, including reproduction.

The cell, which is a thousand times larger than the virus, is commanded to use all of its resources and energy reproducing copies of the virus. Soon the cell is spent and weakened and bursts like an inflated balloon. A once-healthy cell dies and hordes of new cold viruses swarm out to invade healthy cells and make still more copies of themselves.

If the viruses meet no resistance, they will rampage through the body destroying healthy cells, creating ever more viruses, and eventually causing organ failure and death.

What about antibiotics? Can't they kill viruses the way they do bacteria? The answer is no. Viruses are not alive as bacteria are and you cannot "kill" something that is not alive.

I remember an especially vicious cold. I tried an over-the-counter cough medicine, Robitussin Night Time Cough and Cold, an antihistamine cough suppressant and nasal decongestant.

The medicine helped me breathe better but the relief didn't last long, maybe a couple of hours. Oh, I get it. The bottle is small and the relief temporary for a reason: so you buy a bottle every day. No thanks.

Coughing, sneezing, blowing my nose, I was at the height of cold misery when I heard something. Bugles! Help was on the way!

It was the Immune System Cavalry! An army of activated white cells was mounting a counterattack against the invaders. "Killer" white cells were attacking the much smaller cold viruses. Comrade cells were producing antibodies and natural disinfectants.

It is the body's immune system that produce cold symptoms (coughing, sneezing, congestion, etc), not those of the cold virus. The sneeze expels the cold virus from the nose. The cough expels it from the lungs.

It is a battle royal. At stake: my life. On one side, representing Satan and the dark forces of evil, the invading cold virus; on the other side, representing humanity and all that is good, the Immune System Cavalry. The brain is not involved. Every bodily response to the cold virus invasion is automatic.

In this case, it is not a fair fight. In the course of my long life, my troops have fought this battle many times and have won every time. They know the enemy. They know what has to be done. Well, truthfully, they don't "know" anything; they are automatons as driven to defend as the cold viruses are driven to attack.

But with each cold virus attack, the immune system as a whole adapts to the different viruses and builds up a resistance. That's why an old, proven virus slayer like me gets fewer colds. In general, people over 60 average only one cold a year, half as many as young adults.

In this attack on me, the invader is probably rhinovirus, which is responsible for 30% to 50% of all colds and its strengths and weaknesses are well "known" to my immune system. As the Common Cold Center says on its website, “ the common cold can only be cured by our own immune system producing specific antibodies against the virus."

After about a week since the onset of symptoms, it is all over. The noble field of battle, the inside of my precious nose, is littered with dead and dying rhinoviruses and also with nasal cells that had been killed in the invasion. White-celled soldiers go about cleaning up the mess and disinfecting.

The Mortal Struggle

Mother Nature is mean and selfish. She wants us to live only long enough to breed and rear the young. She must be fooled... with a lifelong con job.

So you think tennis is a game? It is not. 

It is a physical, mortal struggle in which what is at stake is nothing less than survival. I don't mean one player leaving the court a winner and one leaving a loser and who cares because it's just a game. I mean the winner, having vanquished his rival, has proved his worthiness to go on living.

He wins the right to mate, the right to food and shelter, the right to deference from the rest of the clan. He gets to drink the bracing, health-enhancing elixir of self and social worth that comes with victory in battle. He gets to stay on the top of the heap, worthy, strong, resistant to infections and disease that routinely crop the weak and the losers from the general population.

He gets to live longer.

The loser slinks off the court. Other clan males, sniffing excitedly, pick up the scent of vulnerability. Challengers, eying the loser’s turf, begin moving in. Defeated in battle, wounded (literally), beaten down in spirit, the will to fight suppressed, the loser gets to drink a poisonous concoction of chemicals specially designed to weaken his immune system and speed up his demise.

He gets to die sooner.

As a competitive tennis player, I know that I am being watched closely on the court by the cruelest old lady you can imagine -- Mother Nature. For starters, she is not at all happy that her old model is still vertical and taking up food and resources she'd rather have go to swift, young, breeding and rival-killing warriors.

Right to the point, she wants me gone and has for years. I have already lived far beyond what she has carefully designed me for. In her eyes, I represent a serious anomaly if not a disastrous breakdown of her diabolically efficient plan known as apoptosis (systematic cell death).

In Mother Nature's heartless eyes, I am the house guest who never goes away. I fulfilled the main function she gave me on this earth decades ago. I reproduced. 

Watching me on the court, she looks for straight answers to a few simple questions: Is he strong enough to reproduce? Can he still hunt? Can he run fast enough to chase down and kill prey? Can he feed and protect young? Can he kill rivals?

When I play poorly, Mother Nature is horrified. Instead of running, she sees me back on my heels. When I don’t reach a ball, in her eyes I have failed to catch a nutritious small mammal with which to feed young. 

When my shots plop repeatedly into the net, she sees a wasted arrow that should have flown strong and true and killed a meat-laden, bounding, hoofed animal that could have fed the clan for days.

And when she sees me limping from a pulled muscle, she starts pulling the plug on me furiously with both hands. If she has no use whatsoever for an old animal, can you imagine how she feels about an old animal who is also injured? It is not by chance that the life expectancy in the wild of old, injured animals is measured in hours.

Mother Nature does not believe in second and third chances. Fail to get the job done, and you instantly become past tense though still marginally useful – as a meal for the stronger, with the inedible remains used to enrich the soil. So know this: we all have to make the old bitch think that we are more than a meal or fertilizer.

Only then will she stop her death-inducing chemicals from flowing in us. I must somehow figure out a way to have her let me drink once again of the life-lengthening brew that comes from victory on the court. We all need to prove to her that, in a brutally competitive world, we can still hack it.

Physical Exercise

We know we have to do it. But very few people realize how much we must exercise if we are to stay healthy to super old age. 

We were not made to sit at a desk or on a couch or behind the wheel of a car. We were made to run through the forest chasing down our living food. To eat, our ancestors gulped for air and flooded their lungs with oxygen as they jumped streams and vaulted over boulders and fallen trees and chased down prey. They had to catch them or die.

We need to do the same and for the same reason. The trouble with the standard advice to "exercise" is that it is not urgent enough and demands too little. It tells people to walk thirty minutes three or four times a week. The fact is that we were made to run as if our lives depend on it -- which it does -- and to do so every day for hours not minutes.

The reason the standard advice on exercise is so modest is  that our health experts are realistic. They know that most people hate to exercise because they see it as grinding work. Doctors are tired of talking up exercise and being ignored. Today they settle for getting people to walk for 30 minutes two or three times a week.

It is nowhere near enough. Exercise does more good for us than any pill or combination of pills. In addition to cardio health, it helps us maintain muscle strength, which is especially important as we age. If we lose strength, soon we can’t put out the rubbish or carry groceries or maintain balance and prevent dangerous falls. 

One thing I do to maintain muscle strength is build stone walls. I search out and gather big rocks and push a wheelbarrow full of them. I definitely overdo it. Ever try pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks?
Aren't I afraid I'll hurt myself, strain something? Just the opposite. I'm afraid that I'll hurt myself or strain something if I don't overdo it. I used to have back problems. They have disappeared since I began building stone walls in earnest.

Never has my back been so strong.

Building a fieldstone wall is classic strength training. It exercises all the major muscle groups: back, legs, arms, shoulders, chest. I pick up large rocks and hug them to my chest as I walk with them. Really big rocks, small boulders really, I bend way down and push, shove, and roll slowly through the muck. 

All that bending, lifting, and walking with a 50-pound or more rock is certainly extreme exercise. But in order for muscles to grow stronger, they must be overworked. Once you become strong, stress on joints is reduced, you are more stable on your feet and less likely to fall.
From years of building walls, I have grown to love the thunk a rock makes when it slides perfectly into place. It tells me that an unseen, powerful, and uncompromising force that wants to weaken the wall can't. It attacks the instant one rock is placed upon another. Its ultimate goal: reduce the wall to a pile of rocks.

That force is Mr. Gravity. He’s a mean, old, grumpy sonofabitch who wants things his way, not yours. Sound familiar? That’s right, Mr.Gravity and Mother Nature are two peas in a pod, self-serving to the core.

You already know the controlling Mother Nature. Mr. Gravity is a double threat, to my wall and our health. As we age, he’s the one pushing us to walk bent over. He’s smart, sneaky, and patient. His relentless, unseen push gradually has us walking bent over and we don’t even know it.

When you tell your kids and grandkids to stand up straight, that is a slap in the face to Mr. Gravity. When you realize what he’s up to and make a point of walking chin up and shoulders back, as we all should do, that is a frontal assault on the devious old crank.

However, to be fair, Mr. Gravity has a good side. But it comes out only when, literally, you stand up to him. When you stand and walk straight up, there’s not a damn thing he can do about it -- and he caves. Not only that, he helps you stand and walk tall.

In the building of a wall, when Mr. Gravity is confronted by one thunk after another adding strength and stability to a wall, he finds himself cornered and hogtied. Again, he surrenders.

Not only does Mr. Gravity surrender, but he changes sides. From fighting a wall, the turncoat throws his immense power into making it stronger. From pushing us to be all bent over, he supports our feisty standing and walking straight.

What Mr. Gravity has is classic personality disorder. He has equally great and indiscriminate capacity for good OR evil. To be a good wall builder, we must crush Mr. Gravity’s evil side and bring out his good side. To have good posture, we must do the same.

In addition to  the previous excerpts,  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life" has chapters on the following:

Built-in Special Interests 

Skewed studies and medical practices serve the corporate and medical establishment – which is why we must all  take charge of our own health care.

The Spy Within

Your blood, the ultimate insider, knows when something is wrong.  To stay healthy, you must get an annual blood test and listen to what your blood tells you.

The “Miracle Drug”

Taking a statin drug for high cholesterol or feeling pressure to do so? Why you must think long and hard before taking a statin, the world’s biggest selling drug. 

Gum Disease

A healthy mouth is an important key to a healthy body. Gum disease is preventable and curable -- and here’s how.

Diabetes Prevention

With diabetes one of the six “horsemen of death,” you must control your glucose levels. What the author learns when he takes part in a major diabetes study.

 You and Others

So, you can take or leave other people. Fine, but you have been made to be a social animal. If you want to live a long, happy, healthy life, you must BE one!

 100 Close Friends

Joan is legendary for having a lot of good friends. It’s healthy, especially when they all pull together and help her beat a big, ugly, potentially fatal tumor!

So long and keep moving.

"A Long, Happy, Healthy Life" is available here.
 E-Books by George Pollock

"State Kid: Hero of Literacy" is fiction based on his  real-life experiences  growing up in foster homes; "Last Laughs," is the true story of how five foster kids (he and four younger siblings) found their way in life and each other. "Killers: Surprises in a Maximum Security Prison," is the story of his being locked up for 23 hours with killers in a maximum security prison;  "I, Cadaver" is about his postmortem adventures and mischief in the anatomy lab at UMass Medical School. “A Beautiful Story” demonstrates the art and process of creative writing as a 16-year-old boy goes all out to write a story that literally saves his life;  "A Long, Happy, Healthy Life," which is about how to live the title every day; and "Unlove Story," Writing anonymously as "Elvis," a husband, dumped after 38 years of marriage, lets it all out on love, marriage, life, everything. A guy doing this? Unheard of.

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