Seniors & Aging

Pam Stone | Southern heat, broken AC tamps desire to live 100 years

I’ve been interested in “Blue Zones” – the areas around the world where people live virtually disease free to over 100 years of age – for a while now. It’s pretty interesting: These folks acquire dementia and Alzheimer’s at only one one-fifth the rate of Americans or the rest of the world, and their exceedingly long lives confirm doctors’ declarations that genes are only responsible for 25 percent of our health, the other 75 percent being determined by lifestyle choices.

To compare: In America, the majority of us are overweight, on prescriptive medications and live to an average age of 79.

In Sardinia, the cluster of centurions seems to be tied to a lean Mediterranean diet of fish, lots of fresh vegetables, red wine and a specific cheese made from sheep’s milk manufactured exclusively on the island. In Loma Linda, Calif., those thriving seniors attribute their age and energy to being 7th Day Adventists, as well as strict vegetarians who grow their own food. Okinawa sees a ton of fish and veg consumed, as does a small island in Greece, which, because it has no real port, has seen much of life’s modern conveniences pass them by. Flat screens and i-Pads, fuggitaboutit. And many of them not dependent upon “climate-controlled” environments sweat when they’re hot, don’t eat fast food, have deep spiritual beliefs and close-knit relationships.

The air conditioning is out in our house, as is the heat, as is the entire system. Nearly 30 years old and part of the house when purchased, we wrenched every last drop out of it, and it has served us well. The new system (which, we are told, is so state-of-the-art that even our 3-year-old heat pump will be useless with it as it is now considered “obsolete”) will be the cost of a new car. A really crappy, cheap, car, but a new car nonetheless. We are awaiting installation during this heat wave.

So I type away with two fans turned on at full blast, blowing the dogs’ ears out like spinnakers as they hog most of the airstream and loll on the floor before them. A bead of perspiration spills down my nose and plops upon my forearm as I take a sip of our plain, cold, well water with a splash of lemon juice and dream of Paul making another Caprese salad (fat slices of ripe tomato layered between milky wedges of buffalo mozzarella, sprinkled with basil and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic) for dinner. We often eat cold meals in the summer and have never owned a microwave.

Then it hits me.

We’re going to live forever!

I may not have the funky Sardinian sheep cheese (just looking at those words gives me the willies) but, by golly, I’m sweating like the chap-covered thighs of a biker, and as someone who has only eaten fish for protein for about 23 years, I might just have decades to look forward to, with the exception of probably losing a couple of years because of junk food.

Damn you, Cape Cod Cracked Pepper Potato Chips!

But then one thinks, or at least this one thinks, “Do I really want to live to be 100?” Now, those in the Blue Zones, because they have scarcely any disability, thoroughly enjoy their century mark because they are still mobile and independent. Some even continue working. They’re not decrepit, slumped in a wheelchair at a nursing home, praying for a quick exit, no, these folks are truly living each and every day.

And here’s the thing: If you’re going to live to be 100 or even 120, as scientists claim our bodies are capable of, you have to be active. Because if you’ve got another 60 years to go after retirement at 65, you’re going to outlive your portfolio. You’ve gotta stay in the workforce! And do we really want to see 100-year-old pilots negotiating turbulence and trying to land with wind shear screaming around the wings? Do we want to see a 90-year-old surgeon suiting up to perform our bypass? I suppose there are positives as well: One sure way to stop the shocking epidemic of inappropriate teacher/student relationships would be to keep teachers in the trenches well into their 80s, and a tax audit, administered by a kindly grandfather-type, wouldn’t be nearly as frightening …

It’s a lot to ponder as I sit here in South Carolina, temperatures crackling around 96 and cicadas chirping relentlessly. I feel like I’m in a scene from “Hee-Haw,” where the cast is lying around on the ground, including the bloodhound, in front of the front porch, too hot and tired to sit up to tell their jokes.

Do I want to live to be 100? Well, if I could dip my sweaty self in the Mediterranean each day and nibble black olives, chased by a glass of locally produced vino each evening, heck, yeah. But here in my southern ’hood, three hours away from the coast with a broken air conditioner, hot flashes and swarms of mosquitos and moths that flood through the door every time I let the dogs out to pee at night, er, probably not. In fact, definitely not. In other words, kill me, now.

Pass the potato chips. And the Bluebell.

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.

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