If you’d like to live a long time, this should be your typical day:
- You wake up and jog to the swimming pool to do some laps, because runners and swimmers live longer. You come home and make yourself a beet and carrot smoothie because vegetarians live longer, and you head out for the office, stopping on the way at Starbucks because coffee drinkers live longer.
- At 10am you have a coffee break, and consume some almonds with your coffee because nut-eaters live longer, and at 1PM you have lunch which is a huge salad absolutely drenched in salad dressing because overweight people live longer and you wash it down with a couple of martinis because people who drink alcohol live longer.
- Back at work, your boss calls you in and tells you that you’re not getting that raise you wanted because the company is putting the money into R&D which will benefit you in the long-term, and you accept this at face value because cynical people die younger and, besides, you weren’t counting on the raise anyway because pessimistic people live longer.
- After work, you try out again for the company basketball team but again get rejected because you’re only five feet tall, which is okay, because shorter men live longer. You shower and put on your tuxedo to attend the Academy Awards because you’re up for an Oscar, and you win it, because Oscar winners live longer. You accept the award, and tell everyone how happy you are because happy people live longer, and you make sure to thank your wife, because married men live longer.
That, my friends, is the optimal lifestyle for longevity, according to numerous really stupid and likely very expensive studies, all of which were really undertaken with the results published in respected and mostly unheard of journals.
The one that probably caught your eye is the Oscar study. Yes, researchers at Sunnybrook and Women’s College Health Sciences Center in Toronto actually conducted a three-year study looking at the life spans of Oscar winners, and actually got it published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, possibly in the “Fresh Faces of Hollywood” issue.
To be clear, the study didn’t find that actors who win Oscars necessarily live longer than everyone, just longer than actors who don’t win Oscars, which is really okay, because all those non-winners think it was an honor just to have lived at all.
I have a number of questions about this:
- Why the hell did it take three years? They’ve been handing out Oscars for 86 years, and they didn’t present awards for supporting actor and actress the first eight years, and the first few years there weren’t necessarily five nominees in each category, so let’s round it off to a finite database of about 1,650 (actually a lot less, since many people have been nominated more than once). All of these people are varying degrees of famous, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find their ages (give or take a few years in some cases). So what’s the big deal? Three friggin’ years? Really?
- Take the entire paragraph above and delete all but the first word.
- Going by this study, is Meryl Streep immortal? Or did she lose years for all the times she was nominated and didn’t win?
- An institution paid for this study?
The guy who headed up the study included the obligatory disclaimer, which I am not making up: “We are not saying that you will live longer if you win an Academy Award. Or that people should go out and take acting courses. Our main conclusion is simply that social factors are important.”
All of these studies include a disclaimer. Yes, overweight people live longer, but that doesn’t mean you should buy that Big Gulp Coke. Yes, happy people live longer, but not if smoking is what makes you happy. Yes, people who drink alcohol live longer, but not if, while drunk, you drive off a bridge.
There should just be one generic disclaimer for all these studies: “Not responsible for promises of longevity if you get hit by a truck.”
The Oscar study isn’t the only one that makes you scratch your head, which by the way, should be the subject of a study to see if head scratching makes you live longer. How about that height study? It looked at two groups of men who were born between 1900 and 1919. One group was under 5’2″, the other was over 5’4.” The shorter group lived longer. You may think, as I did, that 5’4″ isn’t particularly tall, but you have to understand that this study had certain limitations, namely that it was conducted solely among men of Japanese heritage. But, okay, so you want to live longer. What are you going to do, get shorter? Have a surgeon take a couple of inches off the top? And what if you’re 5’3″?
In some fairness, the researchers claim that their purpose was more substantial than giving short men something positive to say in order to get a date. If they can discover that the same genetic material which causes height-impairment also slows the ageing process, we may all live longer, although NBA games will look very different.
Most of these studies are kind of silly, because you can’t really isolate one aspect of someone’s life. Sure, the shorter Japanese-American men lived longer, but maybe it was because the taller ones went off to fight in one of the many wars that were available during their lifetimes. And, yes, vegetarians live longer than meat-eaters, but they also tend to exercise more, be non-smokers, and be better educated. They also tend to be thinner, because, really, who wants to eat that stuff?
Anyway, it turns out thinner isn’t a good thing. People who are overweight–but not obese–live longer than people who are “normal weight.” No one knows why; researchers theorize that the extra weight offers several “survival advantages.” This may have been true back when you had to store a few extra calories until your next big kill, but it would seem to be of little use today.
Here’s a question: if vegetarians are thinner, does that cancel out the extra years they got by not eating meat?
And here’s one study I almost forgot: researchers at Carleton University in Canada found that people who have a purpose in life live longer. I suspect that’s especially true if your purpose in life is to live a longer life. And I wonder why so many of these studies are done in Canada. Do Canadians live longer?
I’ll tell you one thing I know without doing a study: people only pay attention to longevity studies that seem to validate something they already do. Nobody who doesn’t drink is suddenly going to start guzzling scotch because some study says drinkers–even heavy drinkers–live longer. But the folks who do drink will look to the study to justify their continued inebriation.
In conclusion, I would like to congratulation all you short, coffee-and-alcohol drinking, overweight, nut-eating, happily-married, pessimistic vegetarians out there. Enjoy your long lives.
And watch out for trucks.
See you soon.