Thirst for longevity sends us in search of new fountains of youth

August 02, 1993|By Bill Laitner | Bill Laitner,Knight-Ridder News Service

Mick Jagger is 50, the century's about shot, and now bodies of steel aren't enough. We want 'em to last.

Health and fitness publishers are seeing a flurry of new interest in longevity, even while sales remain strong for their usual stock in trade -- books and magazines on weight loss, hard-body workouts and daily wellness.

Atop the book pile is "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind" by Deepak Chopra, M.D.

This weekend Dr. Chopra's book will be No. 1 on the New York Times list of non-fiction books. In 342 pages, it touts meditation techniques, fresh food, moderate exercise and positive thinking as ways to achieve inner peace -- not to mention a few extra decades.

Down the stack from "Ageless Body" are not one but two books named "The Longevity Factor." And there are magazine stories on anti-aging diets and exercise plans, including the suggestive headline on Prevention magazine's August issue, "Live Longer and Love Every Day."

So what's going on? It's baby boomers again. They see the big five-oh looming and are suddenly jazzed about their mortality. In the lingo of market research, "We've seen the rat moving through the snake, and now is the time when it's starting to digest the longevity theme," says Patrick Taylor, spokesman for Prevention.

Forty-somethings "see their parents and say, 'I will not look like that when I'm 70, I will not have that illness,' " adds Susan Meskil, publisher of Longevity magazine, a 5-year-old monthly with a circulation of 350,000.

Smug boomers have always expected more from life. Now they want more life, period. To get it, they're demanding more than conventional medicine can deliver, spurring sales of pop-health publications.

They should stop and consider: The very existence of their parents is significant. After all, this has already been a century of remarkable change in longevity. In 1900, the average American life span was 47 years. Today it's about 75 years and climbing.

What's the theoretical limit? Depends on whom you ask.

Health experts say it will keep climbing if Americans simply quit smoking, eat leaner and get even a little more active. But that doesn't sell books.

"You can live to 120 years if you want to!" exclaims the Phoenix physician who penned "Dr. Mollen's Anti-Aging Diet."

And if you really want to push the envelope, try a bargain-priced, 87-page paperback that gives the magic of Merlin to a mineral supplement. In "The Longevity Factor: Chromium Picolinate," biochemist Richard Passwater writes, "There is good evidence that our neurons could survive 200 or more years if their support system continued to function properly."

The other book called "The Longevity Factor" by Lydia Bronte ($20, HarperCollins), counsels people about how to have a better, longer life, including managing a second career.

Dr. Chopra, a vegetarian who fasts one day a week, is riding the crest of a tidal wave unleashed by Oprah Winfrey. She gave him a full hour July 12. A few days later, hundreds crowded a Madison Heights, Mich., union hall to hear physician Hema Reddy, a Chopra protege, lecture on ways to live longer.

The hall was dotted with heads of graying hair, but there were plenty of middle-aged folks, and a few even younger. Angie Radzikowski, 23, of Canton, Mich., says she dragged her boyfriend along after seeing Dr. Chopra on TV.

"We just want longevity and more control of our lives," she says. Dr. Chopra "makes it sound like you could live a lot longer and do it without wheelchairs and all the drugs people are taking."

And what might follow this fresh longing for long lives?

"I think the whole mind-body revolution is going through four phases," Deepak Chopra says. "The first was prevention. The second was wellness, and by that I mean physical and emotional health. The third is longevity. We want to maximize our lives.

"And I think the fourth phase will be a springboard for a new feeling about the experience of wisdom, wherein the older generation will become the caretakers of society. We will have the benefit of youth in old age."

Oh, no. Boomers again. Hoping to call the shots from their nursing homes.


These new books tell how to live longer and better:

* "Ageless Body, Timeless Mind" by Deepak Chopra, M.D. (Harmony Books, $22): New-age medicine meets the mystic East. This doctor pal of Michael Jackson's says meditation and moderation are keys to more years of inner peace.

* "Healing and the Mind" by Bill Moyers ($25, Doubleday): A journalist's tour of mind-body medicine, based on the PBS-TV series. Mr. Moyers finds myriad ways to nurture our will to live. Dedicated to Kalamazoo's Fetzer Institute, a leader in mind-body research.

* "Fountain of Age"by Betty Friedan (due in September from Simon & Schuster, $25): You've got a long life, baby. Ms. Friedan,mountain climber, jogger and leading feminist, says society's negative view of aging makes women grow old before their time.

* "Dr. Mollen's Anti-Aging Diet"by Dr. Art Mollen (Plume, $11): Less protein -- more years. New in paperback, this is a weight-loss regimen in a longevity wrapper.

* "The Longevity Factor"by Richard Passwater, Ph.D. (due in mid-August, Keats Publishing, $4.95): Hey, it worked for rats. This biochemist is in love with chromium picolinate, a favorite mineral supplement of bodybuilders, linked here to improved immunity.

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