Iron Man October 2007 Excerpt: Longevity: Crossing The First Bridge.

Life span is 25 percent inherited and 75 percent determined by exposure to environmental toxins, accidents, injuries and chance. Learn more from this brief exerpt.

Longevity: Crossing the First Bridge
Plus, Top 10 Supplements for Extending Your Life and Training Career

The longest-lived human on record was Jeanne Calmet, a Frenchwoman who made it to age 122. Although she was blind and nearly deaf during her final years, Calmet never lost her wit or intellect; she even recorded a type of rap song when she was 121 and once commented, "I've got only one wrinkle, and I'm sitting on it." She attributed her long life to drinking port, eating a diet rich in olive oil and having a sense of humor. She took up fencing at 85, rode a bicycle each day until 100, quit smoking at 117 and stopped eating chocolate at 119.

Jeanne Calmet Quotes:
  • "J'ai été oubliée par le Bon Dieu!" ("I have been forgotten by the Good Lord!")
  • "I took pleasure when I could. I acted clearly and morally and without regret. I'm very lucky."
  • "Wine, I'm in love with that."
  • "A very short one." When asked on her 120th birthday what kind of future she would expect to have.
  • "Ha, I was over the hill a hundred years ago"

Life span is 25 percent inherited and 75 percent determined by exposure to environmental toxins, accidents, injuries and chance. That helps explain how Calmet's brothers and sisters lived into their 90s, as did her parents. Her daughter, however, died of pneumonia at only 36. While Calmet's life span seems impressive in light of the statistics showing that the life expectancy is about 76 years, it pales in comparison to some other planetary life forms.

One bristlecone pine tree, situated in California's White-Inyo Mountains and dubbed Methuselah, is 4,767 years old. Other trees live a thousand years or more. The secret of tree longevity is that, unlike humans, trees can regenerate. If humans could do that, they could replicate their old hearts, lungs and perhaps brains for newer versions and live indefinitely.

bristlecone pine tree
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A Bristlecone Pine Tree.

The longevity of other species is more ambiguous; that is, science hasn't yet figured out their secret. The red sea urchin lives an average of 200 years with no signs of aging. Rockfish and some types of sturgeon can survive for 200 years.

Then there's the Galapagos tortoise, surviving to an average 177 years. A tortoise at an Australian zoo died last year at age 176. Adwaita, a tortoise in India, died of liver failure last year; she was born in 1750, some four decades before the French Revolution. The tortoise Tu'l Malia, presented to the royal family in Tonga by Captain Cook, lived to age 219 before passing away in 1966...

Galapagos tortoise
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A Galapagos Tortoise.

What Causes Aging?

First the bad news. There's currently no true cure for aging. Death is indeed inevitable, though some find a way to avoid paying taxes (are you listening, big oil?). No one, regardless of wealth, can buy a way past the grim reaper. What you can do is kind of kick that sucker in the leg to slow him down. You do that by staying healthy and avoiding disease. People who live past 100 show excellent cardiovascular health patterns, such as elevated high-density-lipoprotein levels. On the other hand, some of the lowered risk is due to a favorable gene pattern.

That's the problem with aging - there is no one specific cause, regardless of what you hear or read on the Internet. Aging is what scientists refer to as multifactorial. Even if you overcome one factor, another one will just as certainly turn out your lights forever - at least in this world. What science is realizing, however, is that many gerontological theories overlap; that is, aging may not be as complicated as originally believed.

With that in mind, here are the current leading theories of aging:

Mutation accumulation. As you age, cells develop mutations that aren't blocked by the body. In a worst-case scenario, that means cancer and explains why the majority of cancer patients are older - their bodies have lost the ability to block incipient tumor formation. Mutations mean that cellular DNA, which governs cellular replication, begins turning out bad copies of cells that just don't work right, much as a Xerox machine makes the original copy look great, while successive copies look a bit hazy.

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