a special program of the National Emergency Medicine Association (NEMA)

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Week: 585.7 

Guest: Dr. John Bland, Author, Live Long, Die Fast 

Topic: Aging strongly 

Host/Producer: Steve Girard 

NEMA: Remember when Rolling Stone Mick Jagger sang, "I want to die before I get old". Well, here it is, 30 years later...Mick is still around...into his mid 50’s, I believe. And I’m sure he’s not thinking along the same lines. Well, today we’re going to talk about aging...in fact, how to do it as well as we can, for as long as we can. Dr. John Bland is with us today...an octogenarian who is sharp and witty, and still runs marathons...trying to keep himself fit in all ways to have a satisfying ‘old age’. His book is called Live Long, Die Fast, from Fairview Press. Dr. Bland, how do people start to lose ground during the aging process?  

BLAND: Well, I think the most important single aspect of aging is one’s attitude toward it. That is, it need not be a progressing set of events that leave one frail and incompetent. There is no age at which there is not a prompt and considerably in depth response to either intellectual fitness or physical fitness. It’s always been thought, I think that people...as they get to 60’s and beyond, that there is a gradual reduction in all body functions. And this, as it turns out now that we know so very much more about aging, that has little at all in fact to support that attitude. So, I think that among 20 other things that are associated with longevity and continuing function, intellectual as well as physical, I would say one’s attitude and one’s knowledge of the real facts about aging...the book, I feel, allows one to conquer the fears and facts of aging. Once one knows the facts, then there’s little to fear.  

NEMA: Was there a personal perspective change...maybe somewhere during your career as a physician...where you realized your interest in longevity was strong?  

BLAND: Yes, well....I might say my first really interest - lasting to this day - was in 1937 when a professor of biology, my very first year at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana...it’s a Quaker school...and this professor asked me toward November of that year if I would like to help him do an experiment on fruit flies. Now, fruit flies have given us more information on aging than we’ve learned from any living species. If that can be changed, that leaves one more optimistic about our species. And in this case, the fruit flies that should have died at two weeks, died two to five days later than their genetic programming allowed. And I never forgot it...there’s not much difference between me and a fruit fly, as far as DNA and genetics and longevity are concerned.  

NEMA: Let’s start with some of the things you would recommend, that appear in your book, Live Long, Die Fast, that people can use to keep themselves physically strong as they grow older...  

BLAND: Clearly, physical as well as intellectual activity are the key factors. And this can be as simple as walking. I think walking is the best exercise of all...that anyone can do - you don’t have to learn how to do it, for one thing. And then, stretching is a terribly important thing, little appreciated. We utilize a part of our nervous system called the propriaceptive nervous system, and in brief, stretching makes one aware of all parts of the body. That is, where you are in space, meaning a little finger or a big toe...and a person who is stretched is not just a little, but far more efficient in whatever they do. I think one’s attitude is conditioned a good deal by the sensations of optimism, and feelings of happiness about oneself that is a consequence of exercise. There are certain hormones that are elaborated by exercise that are in a real sense, anti-depression. I think today that most doctors are saying, "Now take it easy, after all you’re 60". And this is a ticket to loss of function...and I mean intellectually and physically. There’s a lot known now about where memory occurs in the brain, and so there are wonderful research studies on how memory works, how you can make contact with something that you’ve known but you don’t remember it initially. And the matter is to try...constantly...that is, don’t accept the fact that you can’t remember it.  

NEMA: Does drinking alcohol have an effect on aging?  

BLAND: Yes, it promotes it favorably. There is good scientific evidence that moderate drinking...this means one or two of hard liquor, or a couple of beers a day is good for you. That is, it certainly does not compromise either intellectual or physical function.  

NEMA: What about sleeping...I hear many people say it’s natural for people to get less sleep as we age...but is that true? I would tend to believe that if you remain active physically and mentally, you would require close to the same amount of sleep you’ve required through your life...  

BLAND: I don’t think there is any physiologic events associated with sleep, that is, the mechanism of sleep, that would interfere at all with older folks function. The most complaints I’ve heard is, "I can’t get to sleep". And there is a mechanism that’s called the ‘relaxation response’. That is, try very hard to shut out the universe, so you are without thought. A man called Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School is now in about his 16th year of studying this issue, not specifically sleep...but sleep is a part of it. But the mechanisms associated with aging, as it relates to brain and sleep function.  

NEMA: How long do you think we’re supposed to be around...?  

BLAND: ....there’s a...There’s such a deeply ingrained notion that the longer you live, the less do intellectual and physical functions diminish. And the evidence just isn’t there. I might just inject that there is no living thing on the planet that doesn’t have a programmed lifespan in their genes. It appears now, that as a species of animal on planet Earth, are programmed to go to around 120. Now, we haven’t realized that...but the fastest growing segment of the United States population since January of 1994 are centenarians. That is, there are more appearing in our population per year than any other age group...babies or 12 year olds or 50 year olds. So that we’re clearly living longer and our life expectancy has doubled in this century, from 42 years expectancy for life in 1900, to now around 85. So, it’s happening...when you consider that these centenarians are still ‘with it’, they’re intellectually and physically good...ha, ha...very importantly they’ve paid their mortgage and own a car.  

NEMA: Do you find the title of your book sometimes give people the wrong idea? Explain why it carries the ‘Die Fast’ part...  

BLAND: ...if you live to between 72 and 79, and you don’t have disabling symptoms of one or more of 6 diseases, then you are very likely to see 85. The probability is very good that you’ll see 85. Now, people dying between 85 and 122...which is the age of the world’s oldest living person...are dying fast, that is hours, days weeks. And in my data, the longest period is 3 months. Now, it takes a much longer time for people to die before that age of 65. And then, from that time on, we are running on our genes. The point being that we’re programmed to something around 120, and your, if you don’t have one or more of the 6 diseases we’re dying of between 65 and 80, then you’re not going to get those diseases. The diseases are arteriosclerosis, which means heart attacks, stroke, loss of circulation in the kidneys...second one is arthritis, three diseases we die of...cancer...diabetes... emphysema and liver disease. And the great majority...something like 88% of deaths in the United States are accounted for by those diseases. But I like to say that there are two things I’m totally, irrevocably certain of...and one is, I shall be dead someday...and two is, I’m not dead now...and so I want, and want to teach people to do everything they can do to realize our maximum lifespan.  

NEMA: The book is called Live Long, Die Fast....and it’s not a fatalistic book...but rather shows that many of us can control the aging process... that the human body is always open to exercise and mental acuity and that those are the best tools to keep one stronger longer...it’s just a matter of keeping in practice, and not letting the inevitable aches and pains knock you off the fitness track for long. The book is available at your bookstores, or through Fairview Press.    

SPOT: Small pages....big advice on parenting...from infants to teens. The Little Book of Parenting. What to expect, emotionally and physically, as your child grows. How to develop positive discipline,how to deal with kids and TV, adolescent issues, drug education, fighting, single and step parenting...it’s all in The Little Book of Parenting, available through the National Emergency Medicine Association. Call 1-800-332-6362 for more information.  

NEMA: Thanks for joining us for today’s program. If you have any comments or suggestions, contact this station. Or visit our home page at: www.nemahealth.org/

...for a look at transcripts of this or past programs, or to find out more about the National Emergency Medicine Association. I’m Steve Girard at The Heart of the Matter.