MagazineApril 2008Fountain of Youth

Fountain of Youth

You know what I think is stupid? Swimming with sharks.

I know, people say it’s a great adrenaline rush and you’ll never feel more alive than when you’re submerged with a bunch of great whites. But do you know what else is an adrenaline rush? Knife fights. Wrestling alligators…blindfolded. Sitting in a bathtub of gasoline and reading a book by candlelight. All are very exciting hobbies, but none I’m interested in pursuing.

The great irony of life may be that you never feel more alive than you do during the few brief seconds before death. That doesn’t mean I’m going to rush into that situation any time soon. Call me crazy, but I cherish my life too much. Movie theater popcorn, central heating, skateboards, jogging, cartoons: I have no intention of giving any of those things up anytime soon. If anything, I’d like to postpone death for as long as I can. Indefinitely, if it’s at all possible.

I know living forever is a pipe dream. I’m aware of the statistics (a whopping 100% of people who are born eventually die). But I’m not the first person to pursue everlasting life. The land mass we call home was discovered because Ponce de Leon was looking for the Fountain of Youth. Dr. Kellogg (creator of the popular cereal) made a fortune by convincing people that proper mastication and regular enemas were the key to longevity. Today, thousands of people invest in cryogenic research based on the blind faith that if they stick around long enough in a frozen tube, some scientist will come up with a cure for death before they thaw out.

I’m not willing to freeze my head in a cryogenic state, but I am willing to take simple steps to ensure a longer, healthier life. I run because studies show that regular exercise staves off cardiovascular disease. I wear a helmet when I ride my bike because studies show a rock to the head is often fatal. I avoid great heights, intravenous drugs, and gun fights, all of which have been known to lead to premature death. And I won’t swim with sharks. I just don’t see the percentages in it.

Do I believe death is a natural part of life? Absolutely. And I’m no age-ist either. Old people rock. I can even see how getting old would be kind of fun. Senior discounts at the movies. Winning my octogenarian age group at the local 5K. Being outnumbered three to one by women in my old folk’s home. These are all legitimate reasons to grow old; I’m just in no hurry to enter the land of dentures and adult diapers.

Alas, no matter how many fish oil supplements I swallow or miles I run, I still seem to keep creeping toward that final finish line. I’m currently at that stage when my body is falling apart at an alarming rate. My knees hurt when I run and the fish oil supplements give me acid reflux. I’m one step away from having to wear one of those emergency medical bracelets. I take some comfort in knowing that my peers are getting older too. Knee surgery is all the rage in my circle of friends. Arthroscopic surgery is the new black.After this round of knee scopes subsides, we’ll all be into prostate exams.

And it’s not just regular maintenance we have to worry about. Random health problems are befalling us like tumors at a Chernobyl day care. I’ve got one friend who dislocated his hip while taking out his garbage. Another buddy has started having intense migraines during sex. Seriously, the pain is so unbearable, he throws up. These are the bizarre things that happen to you once you start that slippery descent toward the inevitable.

But fret not, ye aging masses, salvation is here. According to a new Danish study, moderate alcohol consumption combined with exercise is the key to longevity! The Danish National Institute of Public Health followed 12,000 men and women for 20 years and discovered that those who exercised regularly and drank moderately were 30% less likely to suffer from heart disease than those who simply exercised regularly.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for Americans. If doing a keg stand at the finish line of a half marathon is the silver bullet for this country’s black plague, then I may just live forever after all. I’ve been combining booze with exercise for years, and I didn’t need a medical study to tell me the combination was awesome. There’s just something carefree about running a 5K while wearing a beer helmet—a practice that has earned me more than one scornful look from the more “serious” athletes out there who would never sacrifice their performance by doing a couple of pre-race shots of Jagermeister. Well screw you, teetotalers! I’m not getting drunk, I’m fighting heart disease!

Doctors have known for a while that both exercise and alcohol work in the same way to fight off heart disease, the leading killer of both American men and women. Both booze and jogging raise your good cholesterol (HDL) while lowering your bad cholesterol (LDL), essentially cleansing your blood. This new Danish study adds to that field of knowledge by suggesting exercise and alcohol work together to create a compounded health benefit.

Will running with a Camelbak full of whiskey fight the aging process? No. Will it stave off death forever? No. But it might add a couple of years to the end of your life, which is nothing to sneeze at. The way I see it, you’ve got two choices: You can grow old gracefully, or you can fight the process and grow old with a wicked buzz and a 15 minute 5K PR. To me, the choice is obvious, and it beats the hell out of swimming with sharks.

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