Secret no.51 Dancing naked in front of a mirror

26766726774_2e61352645_bThis is a novel longevity secret in two ways: it’s not quite from a centenarian and it’s really a gentle dig at the whole idea of longevity secrets.

Its author is the scriptwriter Norman Lear, who’s 94 on July 27th. Lear has a string of US TV successes to his name, most famously All in the Family, which created the character Archie Bunker. As with the UK original Til Death Us Do Part (and the equivalent British character Alf Garnett), it broke taboos around discussing race on TV. It still makes terrific viewing, tackling racist attitudes with wit and warmth.

Lear has been raising issues as a writer and political activist since 1945, when he returned from the three years’ services as a US Air Force gunner in the second world war. A documentary about his life has just opened in New York.

And his longevity secret of “dancing naked in front of a full-length mirror every day”? “Well it just could be,” Lear told the Huffington Post. “I don’t know of a scientist on the planet who has said it is not the secret to longevity.” And, he adds: “I have a dozen such secrets.”

Probability rating: doesn’t apply.

The concept of a longevity secret is fair game for Lear. We love to believe (in fact we’re probably programmed to believe) in patterns and causes but there isn’t always a simple reason why someone lives a long time.

It can be fun trying to explore the subject though. And it’d make a great subject for a sitcom, Norman.

photo credit: ode to Ana via photopin (license)




Secret no.50 Gin and tonic

4537590128_f7618daeaf_oWhat a very civilized longevity secret this would be: a gin and tonic, with a slice of lime, perhaps sipped slowly on a verandah while watching the sun go down.

Except that 100-year-old Mabel Jackson downs not just one but six. “I have two at lunchtime, one at tea time with a biscuit and then three more during the evening while I do my knitting,” she says.

Mabel has been drinking G&Ts for 82 years and has even worked out how many she’s had in her lifetime. “I worked it out one night when I couldn’t get to sleep.” she told her local newsaper. “Instead of counting sheep, I counted gins. You get around 35 measures in a bottle, so as I always have six a day it takes me around a week to get through a bottle. I know this because I buy one every Wednesday from the Co-Op. On that basis I buy 52 bottles a year, making 4,264 bottles since I started. That’s quite an achievement!”

“I swear the gin keeps me young!”

But does it?

Plausibility rating: two out of ten. Whatever is keeping Mabel young, it’s not her drinking habit.

There is something to be said for a moderate consumption of gin. As alcohol goes it’s low in calories: a 25ml shot of gin only contains 54 calories which, as this handy calculator illustrates, you could run off in five minutes if you put your mind to it.

And you could probably persuade yourself it’s good for you. Gin is derived from the Dutch liquor Jenever, which was originally sold as a medicine because it contained Juniper berries. Juniper has a reputation for helping with digestive problems, though you will struggle to find strong research evidence for this and whether it would survive the process of turning it into gin is a further question.

You could, though, turn your attention to the mixer in your G&T since tonic water really does have health benefits. It was invented by Brits in colonial India, who added sugar and soda water to their daily dose of quinine to protect against malaria. However these days the amount of quinine is too low to make it an effective prophylactic (and in any case Mabel lives in Suffolk, England, which is hardly plagued by malaria-carrying mosquitoes). Quinine also has uses in treating leg cramps but, though these are unpleasant, they are not life-threatening and so avoiding them won’t help you get to 100.

And in any case, while very moderate drinking may possibly be beneficial for older women, six gins a day counts as heavy drinking and is likely to shorten your life rather than lengthen it. Since Mabel has also survived being a smoker (she only gave up at 97), it’s more likely that she has the fortunate mix of genes that allows some people to break all the rules of healthy living and still make it to 100.

You can ponder on the fairness of that as, instead of a G&T, you sip your low-calorie tonic water on the verandah of your house, watching the sun go down.

photo credit: Gin N Tonic via photopin (license)