Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's the Secret to Living to 100?

(This is not Faity Tuttle.)

The New York Times recently published an article suggesting that a cheery spirit is the reason why certain folks live longer. This, by the way, strikes me as spectacularly dumb.

Do optimists live longer than pessimists? Yes, studies indicate. Dr. Hilary A. Tindle of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, found that among 97,000 women followed for eight years, those deemed optimistic were significantly less likely to die from heart disease and all causes than were pessimistic women, whom she described as “cynically hostile.”

The optimists were also less likely to have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol, suggesting they take better care of their health. Indeed, the pessimists were more likely to be overweight, smoke cigarettes and avoid exercise, indicating, Dr. Tindle says, that negative thinkers make poorer lifestyle choices than positive thinkers.
But can’t we turn this on its head and say that people who make "poorer lifestyle choices" end up being more pessimistic? I mean, isn’t it just as likely that these “negative thinkers” have good reason to be cranky and less-than-active – especially if they’re old, isolated, overweight and suffering from a bunch of diseases?

And shouldn’t we give greater credit to other factors that contribute to longevity, like diet (caloric restriction, anyone?) and advances in medical technology?

Interestingly, the Times article points to Manhattanite Esther “Faity” Tuttle as a shining example of a “positive thinker” who’s turning 100 next July.

Tuttle has “no high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes,” and busies herself with yoga, walking, cooking, corresponding, reading, and watching TV. But here’s the best part: Tuttle “has spurned dairy foods for most of her life” and “still follows the advice of a predecessor of Dr. Robert Atkins who told her to avoid dairy and follow a diet low in carbohydrates and rich in meats and fats.”

That's right: Faity Tuttle is rockin’ a paleo diet.*

*Sort of. Tuttle also eats some oatmeal and a "'very thin' slice of rye toast" each day.