Discover more from We're Gonna Get Those Bastards
Some dude named Peter Attia just wrote a book called Outlive. About how to live a long time.
I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about how to live to 100. If it happens, it happens, but I doubt it will happen. I have pretty bad genetics on my father’s side of the family. My great-grandfather died at 56. My grandfather died at 61. My father is almost 80 and still alive, but in poor health. All of them had weight/heart/metabolic issues. I inherited them. I suppose if I were always training for ultramarathons, and eating sawdust, I would not die of heart disease. But I would die of something else.
My wife’s grandfather is 101 years old. He will live past 120 and become the world’s oldest person, and I am not making this up. He gave up golfing just last year. At age 100, he golfed 27 holes, walked the course, and beat guys in their 40s. This might sound like a Kim Jong Un story, but it’s not. This actually happened. He walks a mile to his wood shop every day, makes 500 toys for kids at Christmas, and walks a mile home. He still drives, and is sharp as a tack. He only has two things wrong with him: he’s hard of hearing, and takes one pill daily for cholesterol. The mf is on fewer medications than me.
Who wouldn’t want that?
Well, as a thought experiment, if you could live for a thousand years, would you? Assuming you were like some kind of magical Benjamin Button character and didn’t physically age and turn into a wizened raisin. Imagine what you would see. You would see wars and revolutions and genocides and mass murders. Sounds pretty awesome to me. I tend not to agree with this, and I don’t think we should be monkeying with the human lifespan. I think we were meant to live a few generations and then check out. It’s worth noting that life expectancy has pretty much topped out in most first world nations—and in the United States it is going down. Industrialization improved nutrition, some dude invented antibiotics, and once we stopped smoking two packs a day, we started to live longer. I think in the future that people with resources (which is another way of saying rich mfs) will have the ability to extend their lifespans significantly, while the rest of us will be out of luck.
But again, I’m not entirely sure I would want to live to 100. I mean, all my friends would be dead. My wife might be dead. Nobody will show up to my funeral—they won’t remember who I am. I will run out of money, and I will be molding away in some horrorshow of a nursing home somewhere. The world will have passed me by. Also, I don’t think we get to play God with this stuff. I think part of what makes us human, and not gods, is that we don’t get to choose the time and place of our death. It is not up to us—and that is the way it should be. This isn’t Logan’s Run.
Also, before you embark on a quest to increase your lifespan, you have to do some calculations on the amount of effort will expend versus the expected benefit in terms of longevity. And if you’re talking about changes in diet, you have to weigh the loss of enjoyment of eating versus the expected benefit in terms of longevity. Some folks have a heart attack, and the doctor tells them they have to eat salads. They say, fuck it, I am going to keep eating cheeseburgers. Then they die. This doesn’t make sense to a lot of people, but it was actually a rational decision. And it’s a decision I might make, myself. If you could tell me with certainty that I would live another two years if I stopped eating cheeseburgers, then I would stop eating cheeseburgers. But nobody knows with certainty what will happen if you stop eating cheeseburgers. Might as well eat cheeseburgers. You might eat salads and take a dirtnap, anyway. Like I said, we are not in charge.
The two biggest killers in the United States are heart disease and cancer, and we have made a lot of progress in curing cancer over the last ten years. Yes, I said curing cancer. There are about 300 different types of cancer, and we are in the process of developing immunotherapy treatments for all of them. And those treatments will get more and more advanced. Over time, fewer and fewer people will die of cancer; contracting cancer will be like getting a speeding ticket. So we will cure cancer and people will die of something else. We will cure everything, eventually, but then you get to the point where your cells just hit the wall and die. And people are working on reversing that process, too. I’m sure you’ve heard people say that they’d like to live a long time, as long as they have a good quality of life—like my wife’s grandfather, who could probably bench 185. I don’t particularly care if I am physically active in old age, as long as I am mentally active. 23&Me tells me that I am predisposed to late-onset Alzheimer’s. That would suck.
People age differently. Some 80-year-olds are on top of their game. Others are drooling idiots. Lesley Stahl is 81 years old, and still doing interviews on 60 Minutes. She interviewed Trump. Regardless of what you think of that interview, she’s got all her marbles. Pat Sajak, my hero, is 76 years old and amazingly sharp. I have met some folks in their late 60s who don’t have two brain cells to rub together. Biden is 80, and is going to shit his pants in public sometime soon. That is one of the great mysteries, I suppose: why some people age well and other people don’t. Maybe that is in Attia’s book. And there are a lot of theories on longevity: don’t eat pasta, don’t eat processed foods, belong to a community, have friends, walk, avoid stress. There are certain sub-populations in the world with great longevity, like in some parts of Italy, and we study these people to find out what the secret is. Nobody fucking knows. I can tell you that the food that we eat in the United States probably has a lot to do with our decreased life expectancy. I don’t have the answers, but I can tell that the old folks who live in isolation, without friends, family, or community, tend to die off pretty quickly. You need to be connected to something greater than yourself. All I really care about is that I have the brain of Lesley Stahl or Pat Sajak when I am 80. And the best way I know of to take care of my brain is to use it. So I write. I will be writing, every day, until the day that I die. I don’t care how many books I sell, or who reads them. I didn’t really get smart until I started writing, and that is how I’ve stayed smart. You need an active brain, not a passive brain.
I think the primary reason I don’t think too much about longevity is because I’m not afraid of death. Some people think that when you die, it’s game over, that’s it, and you’re done. I know with 100% certainty that there is something afterwards. So I am not too worried about it. I would prefer not to get run over by a cement mixer tomorrow, because I still have a lot of things I want to do on this earth. But when it’s time, it’s time. I think that the obsession with longevity is a secular phenomenon, peculiar to the libertarian atheists in Silicon Valley, like Ray Kurzweil. Until I discovered my faith, you bet I was afraid of death. Now, I don’t worry about death. I don’t worry about much of anything. Isn’t it great?
One of my favorite songs as a kid was “Forever Young” by Alphaville—no, not Rod Stewart. Everyone wants to be forever young, right? There are benefits to old age—wisdom, primarily. At age 49, I am older than roughly 63% of the population. I am in a role, as an adjunct professor, where I can pass on that wisdom to the next generation. It’s pretty great. And while there is a big backlash about octogenarian politicians, with Mitch McConnell freezing like Duluth in February, I’ll take the opposite view—I don’t think it's necessarily a bad thing to have old people in Congress. There is a lot of accumulated wisdom. Maybe Dianne Feinstein has reached her expiration date. But I would oppose an age limit for elected officials, simply because some people stay alert and lucid well into their 80s and 90s. You can’t make a hard and fast rule. Leave it up to the voters.
I might cash in my chips tomorrow. Or next week. Or next month. I don’t get to decide. Might as well go out in style.