Reaching old age is a midlife crisis
I GUESS I'm technically in "midlife," though I seriously doubt I'm gonna make it to 104. Why people in their 50s are considered having reached "midlife" I've never understood. Age 35 actually is "midlife" for most people. Living to age 70 used to be a pretty good goal. But at age 35 you are still considered young, and blaming bad behavior on a "midlife crisis" just doesn't cut it.
You quit your job after age 50, leave your family and open a hamburger stand in Kyrgyzstan and everyone says you're just going through a midlife crisis. You do that when you're 35 and everyone thinks you're just a jerk.
So, for the sake of argument, I'm in midlife, which is why a study by two Hawaii researchers caught my eye. After extensive research they found that the key to a long life is how you live your "midlife" years. And here's the surprising thing: To live long and prosper, as Spock might say, you need to smoke cigarettes, eat fatty foods, get as little exercise as possible and drink alcohol out of vats. Who knew?
NOW, put down that scotch and snuff out that cigarette because I was just kidding. Researchers rarely impart such good news. Their job, particularly those researching human health, is to make us feel as bad as possible about how we are living. They act like they are doing us a favor, but they really aren't, because they know that nobody is going to begin grazing on carrot tops and soybean extract just to squeeze a few more years out of the old body.
Hawaii doctors Bradley Willcox and David Curb are getting kudos from the national health and medical community for releasing perhaps the most annoyingly obvious research results in history. I'm happy that a couple of local boys have done well. But come on, did anyone NOT know that you probably will live longer if you don't smoke, don't eat fatty foods and red meat, get lots of exercise, watch your cholesterol, keep your blood pressure in check and don't drink like a fish? They get paid for this?
The doctors studied 5,820 Asian men in Hawaii, average age 54, and found that 88 percent of them would rather be on the golf course than taking part in a study. Actually, after tracking their subjects from 1965 to 2005 (that explains all the guys in white lab coats on the 18th hole of Pali Golf Course), the researchers discovered that most of the men who lived a healthy lifestyle had a better change of reaching old age than those who didn't. Shocking, isn't it? (They also found -- and this is true -- that middle-age men with strong hand grips live longer than those with weak grips. I suspect this had something to do with all the golf these guys were playing.) The researchers failed to answer the most obvious question: Were the healthy guys happier than the unhealthy guys? (We'll get back to that later.)
The doctors believe that the amazing results of this study can be applied not only to other Asian men in Hawaii, but all kinds of 50-ish men in Hawaii as well as middle-age men throughout the world. If all middle-age men started living healthy, they all would be able to live long, long lives and, with the help of Viagra, make the lives of their wives a living hell.
Make no mistake: This study is bad news for women. Because women have been outliving men for ages. It's been their ace in the holistic hole -- knowing that they would have several relatively peaceful years after their annoying hubbies kicked the bucket of golf balls. (Well, the doctors claim that the results also apply to women, but if your husband lives to be 112, what does it matter if you outlive him?)
This Hawaii study actually was a lead item on many national TV news shows. It will be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a periodical that curiously has never published a good thing about cheeseburgers in 200 years.
MY MAIN PROBLEM with the study -- other than the fact that I could have come up with the same conclusions for half the money -- is that it assumes long life is its own reward. Most Americans have conducted their own study and discovered that living excessively healthy lifestyles is really boring. And if you are a guy with no vices who likes to brag about your gym workout schedule, you don't meet many chicks, either.
Willcox is a world-famous expert in aging and nutrition, and I'm sure he's a great guy, but it is reported that he runs around Diamond Head four or five times a week. I wouldn't even want to DRIVE around Diamond Head four or five times a week. My extensive research shows that if that's what it takes to live into very old age, nobody reading this sentence is going to make it.
I haven't actually read the entire report on this study, or any of it, really, but I notice the news reports aren't pointing out how important genetics are to long life. I call it the Jackie Gleason syndrome. Jackie, star of the old "Jackie Gleason Show," was an inspiration. He drank booze, ate fatty foods, smoked like a North Korean lye factory and still lived into his 70s. He had great genes. He might have lived longer if he hadn't done all those horrible things to his body, but would he have been any happier? I don't think so.
On the other hand there's the Jim Fixx syndrome. Jim Fixx, you might remember, was the long-distance runner and health guru in the 1970s who lectured the entire country via his best-selling books on the importance of eating right and staying in shape. He died of a heart attack while running at age 52, in the prime of middle age.
So, the message here seems to be that the middle ground could be the key to a happy middle age. And if you ever get the urge to run around Diamond Head, run around your couch three times and then have a beer.
, the National Society of Newspaper Columnists' 2004 First Place Award winner for humor writing, appears Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org