TIME Aging

Here’s How to Make Sure No One Can Ever Guess Your Age

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As you get older, your body reliably falls apart. Right? Not even close, finds a new study published in the Journal of Physiology. Age really is nothing but a number—but if your number happens to be high, that only applies if your exercise levels are, too.

The study from King’s College London and the University of Birmingham in the U.K. looked at older adults all between ages 55-79 who were very active cyclists. The researchers collected extensive physiological information of every person, including heart stats, respiratory and metabolic levels, endocrine functions, hormones, brain power and bone strength. Many of these measures showed a significant association with age—but they varied so much from person to person that no single measure was able to reliably predict a person’s age.

That’s probably because exercise levels have such a strong influence over many of those numbers, the study authors note, and being sedentary arguably plays the biggest role. Said Norman Lazarus, study co-author and professor at King’s College London, in a press release, “Inevitably, our bodies will experience some decline with age, but staying physically active can buy you extra years of function compared to sedentary people.”

MONEY Aging

When Dementia Threatens a Family’s Finances

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One in three adults will suffer from dementia. Here's how to achieve financial security — and a patient's dignity — when that happens.

My client sat across the table telling me about her late husband — first, his diagnosis of dementia, and then, his suicide a few years later.

On the night before he took his own life, she had finally gathered the strength to tell him he needed to turn their finances over to her. Larger than life when he was healthy, he had been a tremendous businessman. But the dementia had robbed him of sound decision-making, and she needed to protect what was left of their shrinking nest egg.

She asked me, “What should I have done?”

In the years since his death, she couldn’t help wondering whether that final financial conversation had been the tipping point in his waning will to live. It wasn’t her fault; she had supported him throughout his illness with an unmatched strength of conviction and marital devotion. It’s pointless to try to judge the effect of a particular conversation, because he had suffered for a decade. The disease had torn through their lives, leaving a series of wreckages: their relationships, his ability to handle even menial tasks, and — perhaps most painful — his self-esteem.

I told my client she had been in a no-win situation. She couldn’t risk her own future welfare by allowing her husband’s disease to squander all they had worked for. She was in her 60s, very healthy, and had a 100-year-old mother whose zest and longevity foretold of my client’s likely need to support herself for another 30-plus years. To protect herself and her husband from risky investments, unwise purchases and even fraud, my client needed to take over the financial reins. But how do you conduct this crucial conversation about control without robbing a dementia patient of his or her already-declining dignity? With the Alzheimer’s Association reporting one in three seniors in the United States contracts Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s time we start talking about it.

Some advice:

Avoid a crisis. Don’t wait to have one huge conversation. Ideally, you would have a series of talks before anyone is diagnosed with dementia. As part of an overall estate plan, it’s important to discuss all family members’ wishes for the end of their lives and prepare them for the possibility of losing their independence. It may sound trite to say, “One day, Dad, we may take care of you the way you took care of us,” but laying that foundation ahead of time may soften the blow. It’s nice to think that we live on our own until the end, when we quietly pass in our sleep, but that isn’t our current reality. Medical advances have been successful in prolonging our lives, but not at guaranteeing our independence.

Having a big discussion that feels like a dementia patient is the subject of an intervention is stressful for all involved. Save the intervention-type conversations for true emergencies, and recognize the patient needs to feel safe and loved, not confronted.

Understand the backstory. Everyone brings a different money mindset to this conversation. Ask yourself, why is money important to this patient? Is it imperative to provide for the family? Is it a priority to give it away? Open the conversation by affirming the ways the patient has accomplished his financial objectives until this point.

Take into account any major financial experiences that may be coloring this particular conversation. Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist specializing in money conflict resolution, points out that men and women can have different views of common financial decisions. If a wife wants to open her own bank account, for example, she may simply desire some independence. Her husband, however, may interpret her wishes as a lack of marital commitment. If a dementia patient has had this kind of conflict, structure your discussion to avoid triggering those old memories and feelings.

Pick your battles. Can the patient retain investment control over a $10,000 account? Is there room in the budget for a weekly allowance so he can continue making spending decisions? Both tactics can distract the patient from participating in larger financial decisions.

Steven A. Starnes, an adviser with Savant Capital Management, tells a story about his late grandmother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s. Out shopping with her daughter, she found a relatively expensive necklace she just had to have. The family had created room in the budget for one-time splurges that would bring joy to her remaining years. As long as the purchase didn’t thwart the family’s long-term financial plans, it was okay. So Starnes’ grandmother came home with a new necklace that drew her focus away from the other losses she was experiencing.

Utilize helpful resources. Some financial advisers are a tremendous help in facilitating these conversations. A person’s declining financial abilities are often the first sign of dementia, so advisers are well-positioned to help a family. Just having an outside party to ask the tough questions can ease the pressure. In fact, some advisers, including Starnes, specialize in clients with dementia.

A growing number of professionals specialize in different end-of-life issues. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers provides information about care management and a directory of professionals who can help clients attain their maximum functional potential

Another source to locate a professional is the Society of Certified Senior Advisors listing of certificants who have demonstrated expertise in a range of core competencies involving the aging process. Among those holding CSA accreditation are financial professionals, caregivers, gerontologists, and clergy.

To help a family prepare for a discussion of changing financial responsibilities, circulate the book Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson. Another great resource is The Other Talk,by Tim Prosch, which specifically addresses end-of-life conversations between aging parents and adult children. Do some research on the best ways to communicate with dementia patients. It’s difficult work, but it is possible to absolve a dementia patient of financial responsibilities while helping him maintain his dignity.

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Candice McGarvey, CFP, is the Chief Story Changer of Her Dollars Financial Coaching. By working with women to increase their financial wellness, she brings clients through financial transitions. Via conversations that feel more like a coffee date than a meeting, her process improves a client’s financial strength and peace.

TIME Culture

Look at Me Now! A Once Outcast on Her 40th School Reunion

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Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

We change, only maybe not so much

I attended my, ahem, 40th school reunion last May. To be clear, it was the 40th reunion of the preppy little private day school in suburban Virginia that I attended from 1965 to 1973, which at the time went only through the ninth grade, after which most of my classmates went off to various East Coast private and prep schools. I myself chose to leave before our glorious crowning ninth grade year for the uncertain chaos of the local, big public high school—a place that did not, unlike my private school, have uniforms, traditions, endless green playing fields surrounded by endlessly undulating wooded hills, and a who’s who of rich and powerful alumni. It was a step down, socially, but shucks, I was a rebel and by my teen years I’d had enough of the lily-white day school that educated the lucky children of the Washington, D.C., urban elite. And so I set off for the lily-white public high school that educated the children of the Washington, D.C., suburban elite.

Niceties aside, at my day school, I was a social outcast: a weirdo, a loser, a freak, a yuck, the girl who couldn’t catch or hit or kick a ball to save her life; the kid who was always put at the slow learning table; the one who always, but always, said the wrong thing, muffed the answer, or forgot her lines. It didn’t help that I was Jewish, one of the few, along with my siblings, at the school. Being Jewish didn’t help matters, but I can’t blame my tribal affiliation and Semitic genetics for my deep social retardation. I was just, you know, one of those kids: miserable, homely, allergic to all kinds of academic subjects that it was incumbent upon me to learn (like math, science, and languages), and not just indifferent to but flat-out terrified of the rigors of athletics, which were big at my school. If it weren’t for the even bigger losers of the geek hall of fame—the kid who picked his nose, the girl who spazzed out every time the teacher called on her, the boy who stuttered—I would have been consigned, forever, to the social dustbin, without hope, or faith, or light of any kind.

I couldn’t wait to go to my May reunion, though. I couldn’t bloody wait. Starting in February, I counted down the days. Not literally. Okay, literally. For one thing, this reunion was the first I was able to get to, and that’s because, until a few years ago, I lived too far away from suburban Virginia to even think about making the shlepp, not just to the backdrop of my many, many, many childhood and adolescent humiliations, but also to the same bedroom that I came back to daily, to cry into my pillow about all the mean things that the mean kids had done to me that day. Poignant, people! Poignant!

Actually, when I emerged from my car after five hours of bliss on I-95, my 85-year-old father greeted me at the door to my childhood home with a hearty, “You’re late for dinner,” which was followed, after dinner, by a stern warning not to stay out too late. He also exhorted me to sleep in the room that he still calls “Jennifer’s room,” rather than the room across the hall from it, once my little sister’s, which he still calls “Amalie’s room,” and which I prefer for its somewhat less bouncy bed. And on a final note of time-travel back to my thirteenth year, he told me that my cocktail dress was perhaps a bit too—er—he couldn’t say exactly, but didn’t I have something rather more shapeless to wear?

“You’re not going out like that, are you?” is how he put it.

I was.

And okay, I may as well admit that one of the main reasons I was so eager to go to my reunion was to say: hardy har har, you big meanies, because even though I once barely managed to be promoted from the sixth to the seventh grade, look at me now. I’m famous. Except for one little detail, which is that I’m not. Only one kid from our class, the actor Oliver Platt, grew up to be famous, and as far as I knew, he’d long since unleashed himself from any old school ties. My next-most-famous classmate grew up to be a U.S. Congressman, and, after him, pretty much everyone else was a lawyer. As for me, I knew I couldn’t do much in the way of out-and-out bragging, humble or not. Nor could I flaunt my three brilliant kids’ brilliant academic careers, because though my brilliant kids are brilliant at some things, such as complaining, not a single one of them is technically, or even kind of, brilliant. On the other hand, none of them had ever been arrested. On the other other hand, I did have a new right hip that worked so well that you’d never know that, before I got it, I couldn’t actually walk. That had to count for something, right?

Because if it didn’t, what on earth was I going to talk about with the cool kids?

Remember them? The ones who ran fast and scored goals, were invited to the good parties, and knew just how to toss their hair off their foreheads or turn a phrase or crack a joke and who were, in short, too cool for you? And where, oh where, are the cool kids now? And why on earth do I still, on occasion, feel that I’ll never be good enough, smart enough, sophisticated enough for them?

Therapy, anyone?

But according to the online invitation website that some young, technologically proficient person in the alumnae office had set up, the cool kids didn’t seem to be coming to the reunion at all, which called into question my own frantic enthusiasm for it. Because if you can’t demonstrate to the cool kids how awesome you’ve become, what’s the point?

Surely I jest: I mean, really, Jennifer, how old are you? Old enough to indulge in a little emergency cosmetic surgery? Just around the jawline, and perhaps the eyes? Do I really have to answer?

In any event, I went to my reunion, both nights of it, and found out that, duh, most people grow up to be grown-ups, meaning that the kid who once told me that my breath was so bad it could sink ships danced gentlemanly attendance on me when I momentarily felt a little dizzy, which is what will happen to a girl who is so agitated by her upcoming school reunion that she both doesn’t sleep and then decides to fight her fatigue by downing a really really strong cocktail way too fast. (I could give you other examples of fabulous middle age but don’t want to bore you to death.) So yes, it’s true that middle age has its upside, and that you really do get to grow up and out of your former self, that most people mellow with age, becoming less judgmental and more loving, and so forth and so on, except I have to say that there was another side of my reunion that caught me by surprise: pretty much exactly the same people—and yes, I could name names—who once upon a time I found dull, or sugary-perfect, or simpering, or just plain annoying, when I didn’t have the social standing, let alone the self-respect, to pick and choose, I still found dull, sugary-perfect, simpering, or just plain annoying.

We change, only maybe not so much.

I don’t know whether other aging adolescents share my mix of trepidation and sheer, outright weirdness when it comes to their own reunions. But as my college-age daughter, Rose, pointed out, when I explained to her what a bummer it was that the cool kids didn’t come to my own reunion: the cool kids never come. That’s what makes them cool.

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Culture

Passing On the Beauty of Youth to My Daughter, and Letting Mine Go

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

Before I had the chance to consider the passage of time, I became the middle-aged mother of a daughter so beautiful that grown men stop to stare at her

For almost 30 years, my husband and I have been friends, lovers, and occasional combatants. Along the way we’ve produced three children, a garden in which the weeds are winning, and uncountable spaghetti dinners. We’ve weathered the loss of parents and friends, career frustrations, potty training, driving lessons, SATs, and empty nest. Together we’ve moved from New York to L.A., then to Washington, D.C., then to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and then, for a year, to Glasgow, Scotland, where one morning I woke up to discover that I had breast cancer. We survived chemo, nausea, hair loss and the sudden realization that I could, in the careful vocabulary of my doctors, “pre-decease” my husband a lot sooner than either one of us had ever considered. We got through hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Irene. Not to mention the dozens of minor hurricanes that blow through our household with every passing year, the petty jealousies, the arguments over unwashed dishes, un-hugged children, un-remarked-upon achievements, and yet another move, to New Jersey. And now we are in the middle of the middle of mid-life, and embarking on what will certainly prove to be a non-winnable challenge. In short: while my tall, handsome husband—a professor of law—grows ever more distinguished, angular, and attractive, my own looks are fading.

It wasn’t the chemo that did it, either. I bounced back from chemo like a Super Ball. Nor was it the three children. Four months after each pregnancy, I was down to my pre-pregnant weight. I’ve never been even a little bit heavy, in fact, nor have I ever indulged (much) in the kinds of bad habits that can sink a girl’s looks—smoking, drinking, lying in the sun. No, my problem is far more serious: I survived cancer only to have to face the rest of my life, along with the aging that is both a privilege and a curse.

I’m 55. My hair is more gray than brown; my upper arms have become soft; my face is a map of laugh lines; my teeth are more beige than white. Once upon a time, however, I was willowy, graceful, succulent—pretty in a strange, dark, off-kilter sort. I was in love with my own reflection in the mirror; it was the source of my power, my ticket to what I hoped would be not only a fulfilling adulthood, but something greater than that, and infinitely better: a life characterized not just by happiness, but by radiance. I’d look at my reflection in the mirror and realized that I looked like the girl—whoever she was—in the movie. You know the one, where the lovebirds fall in love and then are separated but end up in each others’ arms at last.

I had thick brown hair that fell down my back in a heavy braid, a figure so perfect that people assumed I was on a constant diet, and dark eyes under dark lashes. Boys were drawn to my image like moths to light. They beat their wings against it, dashing their skeletons (and their egos) against the beautiful smooth surface that was my carefully tended exterior. In the early days of our courtship, even my husband fell under the spell of my appearance. I fell in love with him back when he insisted on knowing—really knowing—the messy imperfection that was the real me. But he still thought that I was beautiful, and I basked in his admiration.

In short order, I became the young mother of one and then three almost ridiculously pretty children, a woman in white billowing linen clothes and brown sandals, heavy silver bangles shimmering at my wrists, pushing my children down the sidewalk, or walking with them as they learned to ride two-wheelers. Then I became a patient, bald and greenish. And then, before I had the chance to consider the passage of time, I became the middle-aged mother of a daughter so beautiful that grown men stop to stare at her.

My daughter is 21, in her last year of college. When I look at her, I see traces of my mother-in-law, as well as a large dose of my maternal grandmother, Jennie, mixed in with my husband’s impossible lankiness. She was a child who, even from the first, was complete unto herself, as if born with an old soul. And this soulful, thoughtful quality of hers also shines through, as if her very being poses a challenge to the rest of us to dare to be so fully ourselves. She looks like no one so much as her own self, and when I gaze on her loveliness I am happy for her, but apprehensive, too, because what I sometimes see in her beauty is the continuation of my own deterioration. As for my daughter (and even though she’s seen the photographs), she can’t so much as believe that my stomach was ever as flat at hers, that for years and years my jawline was taut, or that I wore miniskirts. But who could blame her? For most of my life, I had a hard time appreciating that my own mother—she of the slowly but surely expanding waistline, dimpled and rumpled belly, and varicose veins—had ever been anything other than a middle-aged mother who drove a station wagon, met her girlfriends for lunch, made endless meals, and griped about my father.

I know indeed that it’s impossible to turn back the clock, and even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. Let’s face it: even without time travel, I could sign myself up for a little plastic-surgery, followed by a good color-job posthaste. But I’ve had enough pain in my life, both physical and otherwise, and simply can’t fathom why I’d want to put myself through even one second more.

We are at a turning point, my daughter and I: she is poised, as I myself was 30 years ago, to overtake her mother in terms of sheer feminine magnetism, not to mention in terms of strength, sensuality, and raw sexual energy. As she blossoms, I fade. As she flirts, falls in love, takes her first lover, and then perhaps a second, I will be the mother at home, fussing in the kitchen or perhaps puttering in the garden, the one who’s always available for a good long talk on the phone, but who—please—so seriously needs a wardrobe update that it’s not even funny.

Where do I go in all this? And who does my husband see, when he turns to me in bed to kiss me goodnight, or comes into the kitchen when I’m at the sink, washing lettuce? Is it possible to remain in a state of in-love-ness with a woman whose toes have become deformed with use?

But I’m luckier than many of my friends, because my own mother, unlike some of theirs, was almost entirely without vanity. She embraced her expanding waistline like a funny new friend, and while she occasionally did things like dye her hair a ridiculous shade of jet-black shoe polish, she basically felt that, as long as she was healthy, her looks weren’t of any great importance. I found this attitude to be astounding. After all, every day I passed her wedding portrait, which was propped up on the piano and showed a slender young woman with dark hair cut as short as a boy’s and shining dark eyes sheathed in endless, perfect white satin. Her figure was so boyish that she barely had breasts, and her neck was long and graceful. Once upon a time she’d been a dancer, and in her wedding portrait, she still looked like one. By the time the last of her four children appeared, all traces of the dancer she’d once been were gone.

But around the time my own first baby was born, my mother turned to me, and for no apparent reason, announced that by 40 or so, any woman who is more concerned with her outsides than her insides is in big trouble. She was thinking, perhaps, of those friends of hers who had had facelifts or tummy tucks, and still weren’t satisfied. Or perhaps she intuited that, unlike her, when my own looks began to give out, I’d mourn. When she herself died, of cancer, at the age of 72, she was bloated beyond recognition, and more beautiful than ever.

Jennifer Moses is a writer and painter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

MONEY working in retirement

This Is the Toughest Threat to Boomers’ Retirement Plans

Most employers say they support older workers. But boomers don't see it, and age discrimination cases are on the rise.

As the oldest boomers begin to turn 70 in just over a year, an important workplace battleground already has been well defined: how to accommodate aging but productive workers who show few signs of calling it quits.

Millions of older workers want to stay on the job well past 65 or 68. Some are woefully under saved or need to keep their health insurance and must work; others cling to the identity their job gives them or see work as a way to remain vibrant and engaged. At some level, almost all of them worry about being pushed out.

Those worries are rooted in anecdotal evidence of workers past 50 being downsized out of jobs, but also in hard statistics. Age discrimination claims have been on the rise since 1997, when 15,785 reports were filed. Last year, 21,396 claims were recorded. Not every lawsuit is valid. But official claims represent only a fraction of incidents where older workers get pushed out, lawyers say.

One in five workers between 45 and 74 say they have been turned down for a job because of age, AARP reports. About one in 10 say they were passed up for a promotion, laid off or denied access to career development because of their age. Even those not held back professionally because of age may experience something called microaggressions, which are brief and frequent indignities launched their direction. Terms like “geezer” and “gramps” in the context of a work function “affect older workers” and erode self-esteem, write researchers at the Sloan Center.

These are serious issues in the context of a workforce where many don’t ever plan to retire. Some 65% of boomers plan to work past age 65, according new research from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Some 52% plan to keep working at least part-time after they retire. In a positive sign, 88% of employers say they support those who want to stay on the job past 65.

But talk is cheap, many boomers might say. In the Transamerica survey, just 73% of boomers said their employer supports working past 65. One way this skepticism seems justified: only 48% of employers say they have practices in place to enable older workers to shift from full-time to part-time work, and just 37% say they enable shifting to a new position that may be less stressful. Boomers say the numbers are even more dismal. Only 21% say their employer will enable them to shift to part-time work, and just 12% say their employer will facilitate a move to a position that is less stressful.

These findings seem at odds with employers’ general perceptions about how effective older workers are. According to the survey:

  • 87% believe their older workers are a valuable resource for training and mentoring
  • 86% believe their older workers are an important source of institutional knowledge
  • 82% believe their older workers bring more knowledge, wisdom, and life experience
  • Just 4% believe their older workers are less productive than their younger counterparts

The reality is that most of us will work longer. The Society of Actuaries recently updated its mortality tables and concluded that, for the first time, a newborn is expected to live past 90 and a 65-year-old today should make it to 86 (men) or 88 (women). The longevity revolution is changing everything about the way we approach retirement.

Employers need to embrace an older workforce by creating programs that let them phase into retirement while keeping some income and their healthcare, by offering better financial education and planning services, and by declaring an age-friendly atmosphere as part of their commitment to diversity.

For their part, employees must take steps to remain employable. Most are staying healthy (65%); many are focused on performing well (54%), and a good number are keeping job skills up to date (41%), Transamerica found. But painfully few are keeping up their professional network (16%), staying current on the job market (14%) or going back to school for retraining (5%). Both sides, it seems, could do better.

Read next: How Your Earnings Record Affects Your Social Security

TIME Aging

Study Finds Those Who Feel Younger Might Actually Live Longer

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A new study shows people who feel younger than their actual age live longer

People who feel three or more years younger than they actually are had lower death rates compared to people who felt their age or older, according to a recent study.

Two University College London researchers studied data collected from 6,489 men and women whose average age was 65.8. On average, people in the study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, felt closer to 56.8. Among the participants, 69.6% said their self-perceived age was three or more years younger than their chronological age, 25.6% said they felt their age or close to it, and only 4.8% felt older than they actually were.

When the researchers compared the self-perceived ages to death rates, they found that rates were lower among those who felt younger, compared to participants who felt their age or older.

Of course unrelated factors like disabilities and overall health played a role, but when the researchers adjusted for those factors, they still noted a 41% greater mortality risk for the people who said they felt old.

What’s driving this apparent phenomenon needs further assessment, but the authors suggested that people who feel younger may have greater resilience and will to live. “Self-perceived age has the potential to change, so interventions may be possible,” the authors write. “Individuals who feel older than their actual age could be targeted with health messages promoting positive health behaviors and attitudes toward aging,” the study concluded.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Diet Has Been Linked to a Longer Life—Again

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Mediterranean include fresh fruits and vegetables, beans, olive oil and moderate amounts of wine Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, fish and olive oil help cells stay biologically young

It’s no coincidence that some of the world’s populations with the longest lifespans live along the Mediterranean coast. The climate there ensures that foods like fruits, vegetables, olives, beans and fish are abundant, which are all rich in the antioxidants that can combat aging triggered by pollution and stress. They’re also powerful fighters against the inflammation driving so many chronic diseases, from heart disease to cancer.

Now, a new study published in the BMJ gives more meat to the biological connection between longevity and the Mediterranean diet. Researchers studied 4,676 women enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study, an ongoing trial tracking the health and habits of more than 120,000 registered nurses in the U.S. since 1976. The team, led by Immaculata De Vivo, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that women who ate a Mediterranean diet had cells that were different from those who ate diets that were heavier in red meats and dairy products. The Mediterranean fans had longer telomeres, bits of DNA located at the tips of chromosomes, in their cells. Telomeres shorten every time a cell divides; they shrink by half from infancy to adulthood, and again by half among the elderly. Previous studies have linked longer telomeres to longer life and shorter telomeres to shorter lifespans.

MORE: Eat Better and Stress Less: It’ll Make Your Cells (and Maybe You) Live Longer

Even after De Vivo and her colleagues adjusted for other factors that could affect telomere length, including age, smoking status and physical activity, the link between the Mediterranean diet and longer telomeres remained strong,

“Our contribution is that we provide a link at the molecular level, at the DNA level, of the association between the Mediterranean diet and longevity and beneficial health effects,” says De Vivo.

And it wasn’t any one element of the Mediterranean diet that was primarily responsible for effect. “We didn’t find that any single component was driving the association,” she says. “It was the entire package, the pattern of eating itself.”

MORE: How to Live 100 Years

That makes sense, since each of the hallmarks of the diet—from fish to olive oil to moderate amounts of alcohol—are strong antioxidants that can fight the oxidative damage connected with aging. Together, it’s possible that the synergistic effect is beneficial for longevity.

It’s also a lesson that diet alone won’t help you live to old age. “I think nothing by itself will do anything. But a good healthy diet that’s good for you and that tastes good, physical activity, and not smoking—I think the whole composite is beneficial,” says De Vivo.

TIME Longevity

Want to Live Forever? These Men Say They Can Help

It’s not always easy to tell whether the new documentary titled The Immortalists is sympathetic to its two primary characters or whether it’s making fun of them. The men in question, Bill Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, are scientists who have independently vowed to cure aging and vanquish death. That alone suggests they belong in the fruitcake bin, along with the better known Ray Kurzweil, who intends to have his brain uploaded to a computer in 2045 in an event he calls the Singularity.

The impression becomes stronger when directors David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg delve into Andrews’ and de Grey’s lives and backgrounds, in an attempt to help viewers understand what motivates them. The bottom line: they disapprove of death. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” says a tearful Andrews at one point of a colleague who died of cancer at a relatively young age. “We were on the same mission.” Biology evidently hadn’t gotten the memo. De Gray, meanwhile, walking through a cemetery, declares, “I don’t want to get Alzheimer’s and end up in a place like this.”

Most of us agree that death seems unfair, unless we believe in a redemptive afterlife, which neither Andrews nor de Grey seems to—and even religious folks would generally like a few more decades of life before going to the Great Beyond. Most of us also believe bad things shouldn’t happen to good people—a sort of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” philosophy that’s as appealing as it is unanchored in any sort of rationality.

Both Andrews and de Gray are scientists, though, and their parallel quests to defeat aging have at least a plausible scientific basis. The key, they believe, lies with the telomere, a sort of protective endcap on our chromosomes that shortens every time a cell divides. When the telomere gets too short, the cell’s number is up. But a natural enzyme called telomerase can protect the telomere from damage, which suggests that having more of the enzyme could stave off aging and death.

So far so good, and scientists worldwide are looking into the details of exactly what telomerase does and how it does it—and whether boosting it artificially might help stave off aging. Those details could prove to be devilish, though. Back in the late ’70s scientists were intrigued with a natural substance called interferon, which showed promise as a magic bullet against cancer. It wasn’t. In the late ’90s there was lots of excitement about anti-angiogenesis drugs, also meant to wipe out cancer. But despite early promise, they too have failed to impress.

Most scientists are more careful now about making dramatic pronouncements about magic cures even for single diseases, let alone aging and death itself. But not Andrews or deGray. As it happens, legitimate, independent scientists are few and far between in The Immortalists, and those who do appear are less than effusive. “I find Aubrey’s position quite difficult to pin down,” says Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at the University of London. “He made a statement that the first person who will live to 1,000 is alive today. I think that’s foolish.” William Bains, meanwhile, a biotech entrepreneur admires de Gray for being able to drink prodigious amounts of alcohol and still think serious scientific thoughts. I’d take an anti-aging cure created by a guy like that. Wouldn’t you?

The directors want us to understand both de Gray and Andrews as visionaries whose own private lives exemplify their maverick attitudes toward conventional wisdom. That part certainly works: we see Andrews running a 100-mile-plus ultramarathon across the Himalayas and we get to watch de Gray frolic nude on a blanket with his wife. (de Gray is polyamorous; his wife is not amused).

The film itself, which premiered last week in New York and opens December 11 in Los Angeles, artfully leaves it up to viewers whether de Gray and Andrews are crackpots or whether they’re outside-of-the-box thinkers who truly might help us live forever.

My vote: they should have stayed in the box.

MONEY Second Career

Still Working After 75—and Loving It

Singer Willie Nelson performs during an “In Performance at the White House” series event
One of many working seniors, singer Willie Nelson, 81, is still on the road. Jacquelyn Martin—AP

Growing numbers of Americans in their 70s and 80s love their jobs and have no plans to retire. You might be one of them someday.

Willie Nelson is 81; Warren Buffett is 84; Mary Higgins Clark is 86 and David Hockney is 77. All are still working and going strong. So are more and more Americans 75 and older. You might be one of them someday—and glad of it.

In a recent interview, British painter David Hockney—one of the world’s greatest living artists—captured the joy, meaning and youthfulness he continues to draw from his profession. “When I’m working, I feel like Picasso, I feel I’m 30,” he told Tim Lewis of The London Observer. “When I stop I know I’m not, but when I paint, I stand up for six hours a day and yeah, I feel I’m 30.”

‘It’s What I Enjoy Doing’

I imagine that sentiment rings true for Mark Paper, age 81. He’s President of Lewis Bolt & Nut Company in Wayzata, Minn., a firm owned by his family since 1927. Paper took the helm from his father in 1962 and remains deeply involved in the company’s expanding operations. He gets daily and weekly reports, stays in touch with its executives and flies out to visit the manufacturing plant in La Junta, Colo. several times a month.

“Why not stop working?” I asked Paper. “You have money. You’re 81 years old. Haven’t you heard of retirement?” His answer: “It’s what I enjoy doing.”

Plenty of other septuagenarians and octogenarians feel the same way.

Although people working at age 75 and over are a distinct minority—comprising less than 1% of the total labor force—roughly 11% of American men 75 and older are still at it and 5% of women that age are. By contrast, in 1992, only about 7% of 75+ men and 3% of 75+ women worked.

Indeed, after declining sharply in the early postwar decades, the average age of retirement in America has risen over the past two decades, to 64 for men and 62 for women, calculates Alicia Munnell, head of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

While the labor force participation rate for men 75 and up is currently about double that of the rate for women, the gap is expected to shrink. Boomer and Gen X women are well educated and more attached to their jobs than previous generations.

‘I Can’t Imagine Not Being Employed’

Marilyn Tully, 75, loves working, too. She has been self-employed her entire working life in businesses mostly revolving around the home and interior design. “I can’t imagine not being employed,” she says. “Especially if you still have the energy, which I do and, like me, you have the creative urge.”

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been rough patches. In 2007, she and her husband had to shutter their Naples, Fla. furniture business, a casualty of the housing market implosion, and her interior design company suffered. These days, her design business is picking up, she represents a successful jewelry designer and consults on inventory management for high-end designers. (Her husband handles the administrative and IT sides of her firms.) When they aren’t working, they sail Florida’s gulf coast for two weeks at a time on the trimaran Tully’s husband built. “It’s a good life,” she says.

‘It Keeps Me Young’

Newspaper publisher Jerry Bellune of Lexington, S.C., 77, works at a pace that would leave many younger workers gasping. He says running the Lexington County Chronicle & Dispatch News with his wife, MacLeod, offers him “enjoyment, exhilaration, a strong sense of mission and purpose.” On top of that, says Bellune, “it keeps me young, working with younger people and helping them grow personally and professionally.”

And he has no plans to stop. “I’d like to work as long as I’m able and can still make a contribution,” Bellune told me.

Here’s a typical workweek for him: Mondays and Tuesdays, he’s usually at the office, writing, proofing pages and talking with the staff about coverage, and the rest of the week he’s mostly writing and helping with community endeavors. Weekends are busy, too, writing weekly and monthly articles for a business magazine and two trade magazines. (He’s also a consultant and manages a family investment fund. Tired yet?)

The Bellunes do take breaks, traveling abroad several weeks a year and spending time at their vacation home. “We have an excellent staff that permits us that leisure,” he says.

‘It Keeps Me Off the Streets’

Funeral assistant Jerry Beddow, 75, loves working, too. A year after retiring as a high school principal in 1994, Beddow began his current job at Patton-Schad Funeral and Cremation Services in Sauk Centre, Minn. He works about three to four hours a day, helping position caskets at the funeral home, carrying flowers, talking to grieving families and driving the hearse. “It keeps me off the streets,” he laughs.

After researching my new book, Unretirement, I’ve come to believe that the ranks of people 75+ earning a paycheck will expand in coming decades, especially among better educated employees and businesss owners. It isn’t inconceivable that the average retirement age when the youngest boomers reach their 70s in the early 2030s could approach 70.

“Public opinion in the aggregate may decree that the average person becomes old at age 68, but you won’t get too far trying to convince people that age that the threshold applies to them,” notes Pew Research in its report, Growing Old in America: Expectations vs. Reality. “Even among those who are 75 and older, just 35% say they feel old.”

The ones who are able to keep working well into their 70s, I think, will find themselves leading richer lives, both financially and psychically.

Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor for American Public Media’s Marketplace and author of the new book Unretirement: How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community, and The Good Life. He writes about Unretirement twice a month, focusing on the personal finance and entrepreneurial start-up implications and the lessons people learn as they search for meaning and income. Send your queries to him at cfarrell@mpr.org. His twitter address is @cfarrellecon.

More from Next Avenue:

Why Professional Men Over 60 Keep Working

The Good News About Women Working After 60

What Older Workers Want, But Aren’t Getting

TIME Aging

Taking Care: An Intimate Look at How Parkinson’s Disease Has Changed 1 Family’s Life

“Taking Care” is a series intimately covering the lives of caregivers and the people they care for. This month’s edition is on Parkinson’s Disease

When Eleanor Copeman was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, an incurable condition that gradually attacks the nervous system and impairs even simple movements, family life for the Copemans changed forever. The vibrant, joyful matriarch who loved cooking for her family became dependent on her husband Douglas and daughter Tammy for everything from preparing meals to getting dressed.

Now, almost a decade later, Eleanor also has dementia, which strikes 50-80% of people with Parkinson’s. The physical and emotional burdens of caretaking fall to the family.

Eleanor Copeman sweeps the porch outside the family home as her daughter rides her horse toward the house in Elkins, West Virginia, on July 14, 2012. Abby Kraftowitz

“Physically, taking care of someone with Parkinson’s is intense—you have to be on 24/7,” Tammy Copeman tells photographer Abby Kraftowitz, who has been documenting the Copemans’ lives since 2012. “I think it’s just a whole different level of love and loving your family.”

Douglas says he chose to take care of Eleanor at home to honor a promise he made to her 51 years ago when they first married.

Kraftowitz’s work offers a deep look into life inside one household touched by this chronic disease.

Abby Kraftowitz is a photographer based in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @abbykraftowitz.

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