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Take back civility

BeavisandbuttheadLife’s a bitch. Don’t vote for one.

She’s a cunt. Vote for Trump.

Better to grab a pussy than be one.

Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump.

I wish Hillary had married OJ.

Where did all this foul, despicable, inexcusably vile rhetoric come from? How did we devolve to such base, crude, violent, sexist sloganing? Putting aside, for just a moment, ideology and political passions, forgetting (ha) gender and class and race, why should any of us engage in such degraded, loathsome speech?

Some of us would like to think these slogans (all seen on t-shirts and placards at Trump rallies) are “just” the product of the angry fringe, snarlings emerging from deep within the basket of deplorables. But you know what? Incivility has become a part of everyday American life –not just tolerated but accepted, normalized, embraced. Lashing out with name-calling, turning disagreement into rudeness, crudeness and bullying…Mr. Trump did not invent this.

I blame us – all of us – for the debasement of dialog, for our inability to argue a point without an “oh yeah, well you suck” comeback, for the failure of imagination and intelligence (not to mention garden-variety decency) that leads us to criticize a person by invoking a body part or by suggesting murder.

Anyone who’s ever scrolled through the comments section of a news site has seen (for years now) this deplorable behavior, this resorting to insult instead of engaging in debate, this crude name-calling. One study that analyzed more than 6,400 reader comments posted to the website of the Arizona Daily Star, the major daily newspaper in Tucson, found that more than 1 in 5 comments included some form of incivility, with name-calling as the most prevalent type.

More than 4 years ago — back when Mr. Trump was merely a billionaire developer reality TV host and not a candidate for the highest office in the most powerful country on the planet – Psychology Today ran a long story about the rise of incivility in American culture, pointing to – that’s right — reality TV.

We became inured to it long before Mr. Trump stirred the pot. We watched (and laughed at) the crude idiocy of Beavis and Butthead. We tuned in to bullying chefs and insulting, hot-headed talk show hosts and back-stabbing/ trash-talking “Housewives of…” It was entertainment. Just as we at first thought Mr. Trump was entertainment.

We were wrong.

And now, as we watch Mr. Trump lose, we need to pull ourselves out of the mire. We need to take responsibility and reclaim civility in American life.

We are capable of intelligent conversation. We are capable of passionate, informed and respectful debate and disagreement. And if you don’t think I’m right, then fuck off.

October 19, 2016   3 Comments

Longevity Tourism

aLongevity tourism.

Yes, it’s a thing.

And no, it should NOT be a thing. Let me explain:

“Longevity tourism” involves well-heeled, first-worlders visiting Blue Zones like the little village in southern Italy that I wrote about here. Blue Zones are geographic locations where people live significantly longer, astoundingly healthier lives than the rest of us. In addition to the little villages on the southern Mediterranean coast of Italy, there is Sardinia, the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica and the Greek island of Icaria, among others.

In the emerging business of Longevity Tourism – part of (shoot me now) the “silver economy,” (i.e. moneyed babyboomers), travelers venture to these places on quests to discover the secrets to living long, healthy lives. If you read this blog (and my book Counterclockwise), you know that I am all about living a healthy, vital life. But does Longevity Tourism hold the key?

Come with me as we travel to the sunbeaten village of Perdasdefogu, in the rugged interior of Sardinia, to meet the Melis family, Guinness World Record holders (2012-1014) for “oldest family on the planet.” Consolata (that’s her picture above) lived to 107. Her younger siblings include Claudina (103), Maria (101), Antonio (97), Concetta (95), Adolpho (93) and Vitalio (90).

What’s their secret?

They live, fully integrated, in the multi-generational life of their extended family.

They live, fully integrated, in the life of the village — an isolated, close-knit, sociably community, the same one they were born into.

They live in a culture that expressly treats the elderly with dignity and respect – and doesn’t make a big deal about it.

Families in this area carry a specific gene on their Y chromosome that significantly reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke. The gene pool is “unusually undiluted” because of the isolation of the villages and the family intermarriages.

They are poor. They grew up (and continue to live) hardscrabble lives. The men were goatherders, traversing miles of rugged terrain every day, living almost exclusively on goats’ milk and pistoccu (a thin, crisp local bread). “There was no money,” one nonagenarian explains. “It was difficult to get enough to eat.” Another villager adds, “You exchanged some of your cheese for a bit of bread. If you were having a good month, you got a little meat.”

These are not the “secrets” longevity tourists want to hear.

I’m thinking that we who care about health and wellness should leave these villagers to live their lives while we focus on creating a meaningful, engaged, multigenerational culture, one that we continue to respond to, actively participate in and enhance as we age.

How about that secret?

October 12, 2016   4 Comments

The REAL Elena Ferrante

GetFileAttachmentTo write, to write with purpose, to write better than I had already. And to study the stories of the past and the present to understand how they worked, and to learn, to learn everything about the world with the sole purpose of constructing living hearts, which no one could ever do better than me…

These are the thoughts of Elena Greco, the narrator of Elena Ferrante’s  stunning four-book series of Neapolitan novels. But this is also the author herself, proclaiming her purpose. It is every author proclaiming her purpose, setting her intentions.

And that’s why, as I read the novels, I was content not knowing who “Elena Ferrante” really was. I knew who she was. She was a woman writing. She was a woman giving voice not just to her narrator but to every woman who is bold and then doubts herself, who works for success and then questions whether she deserves it, who is wary because that’s what a woman has to be in this world, who pretends and knows she pretends and beats herself up for pretending and then pretends again. A woman whose interior monolog is richer and deeper and darker than anyone can imagine.

The author, despite extraordinary international acclaim, chose privacy. She chose to remain cloaked in a pseudonym, and I loved that. I loved it because it allowed me to feel the work, to be fully immersed in the work. I loved it because, at a time when every author (myself included) lusts for media attention and shouts me me me on any and all social media channels, this author was letting the work speak for itself. This author put the characters first. And the setting. And the force of culture and history.

And then…the revelation.

An Italian investigative reporter, who apparently had nothing more pressing to do (may I suggest, for starters, investigating the stranglehold the Camorra has on Naples? Italy’s astonishing unemployment rate?) took it upon himself to paw through financial records and real estate records and unmask the “real” Elena Ferrante.

Asked why he would want to delve into the identity of Ms. Ferrante, whose readers value her anonymity, the journalist, Claudio Gatti said he was just doing his job.


If his job is making a name for himself. If his job is (temporarily) one-upping the most widely read, most respected FEMALE novelist of our time. He is like so many of the male characters in Ferrante’s novels – loud voice, small mind, clueless about and simultaneously jealous of the power of a woman.

He wants to steal Elena Ferrante from us. But we know who she is, and we won’t let him.

October 5, 2016   2 Comments

La Dolce Vita

acciaroli-italyFor the past two weeks I’ve been staying a scant 80 miles from the little village of Acciaroli on the Mediterranean coast of southern Italy. For those who track “anti-aging” (that is to say pro-healthy aging) research, that name might sound familiar. This town of barely 700 residents has been the object of intense research. In Acciaroli, one out of 10 residents is over 100 years old. Also, they appear to be immune to chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and dementia. And their circulatory systems could be mistaken for those of 20 year olds.

Why? What is responsible for such an unusually high number of healthy centenarians? Please, teams of researchers, descend on this sleepy village, apply the masterful tools of 21st century western scientific inquiry and tell us “the secret” so we too can live lives just like the Acciaolians.

Okay, then: Scientists from the San Diego School of Medicine along with colleagues from Rome’s Sapienza University recently spent six months studying the residents of Acciaroli.

First I’ll tell you what they found. Then you’ll see why I think these “secrets” are meaningless to you and me.

Major finding: Acciarolians eat lots of anchovies and flavor everything, every meal with fresh rosemary.  Anchovies are packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Rosemary, long been considered a healing herb, has been shown to improve brain activity, prevent cognitive dysfunction and protect against carcinogenic compounds.

Got it. Secret revealed! Eat lots of anchovies. Season everything with rosemary. Live to be 100. Or, better yet, since most people don’t like anchovies, swallow omega-3 pills. And, since fresh rosemary is not so widely used in American cuisine, assume some enterprising nutriceutical company is marketing powdered rosemary in a capsule and down a few of these every morning. Done.

Um, no. The secret to their long lives is:  They live completely different lives than we do. They are immersed in a rich culture based on strong and enduring family ties and the healing power of the church, both of which contribute to a sense of larger purpose as well as everyday happiness and satisfaction. The old people live lives fully integrated into the life of the village. Their lives include some hard work but also prodigious amounts of leisure time. Due to the location of the village, everyone walks long distances and hikes through the mountains as part of their daily activity. In the late afternoon and evening, people gather in the cantinas to drink wine or coffee, relax, talk, debate.

Put that in a pill and swallow it.

September 28, 2016   5 Comments

How sweet it is(n’t)

sugarHere’s something you don’t want to hear.

The medical news and dietary recommendations about sugar that we’ve all been reading about for the last five decades have been largely shaped by — wait for it – the sugar industry. An industry trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation (today known as the Sugar Association) apparently paid scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease, and focus instead on saturated fat as the culprit.

What did we hear about sugar? Okay, it caused tooth decay. Big deal. Brush your teeth. The sugar-induced energy rollercoaster could be promoted as “quick energy.” Remember the get-a-life-eat-a-Snickers-bar ad campaign? If a person was concerned about health…FAT was the real enemy. Fat was the killer. Fat was the fast-track to heart disease.

For the gory details on the collusion between sugar execs and leading Harvard scientists, one of whom went on to help draft the national’s dietary and nutritional plan, check out this recent New York Times story
and the JAMA Internal Medicine research upon which it was based.

And, lest you think this collusion between agriculture, business and science was just a remnant from the Bad Old Days, please note that just last year it came to light that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity.

At the risk of merely replacing evil demon fat with evil demon sugar (remember evil demon salt?), allow me to share this information about the health effects of sugar.

Sugar can damage your heart
Excess sugar increases the risk of heart disease (yes, like fat), but there is also strong evidence that sugar affects the heart’s pumping mechanism and may also increase the risk of heart failure.

Sugar and obesity? Yep.
Fat causes fat, we’ve been told. Fat in the diet is the culprit. Eat nonfat. Eat low-fat. But has this explosion of low-fat items in the grocery store halted out obesity epidemic? No. Consider sugar. Excess fructose consumption has been linked to an increase in a condition called leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough food. If you develop leptin resistance, you don’t get the message that you’re full. You keep eating. And eating.

Sugar specifically promotes belly fat (the worst kind)
Fructose in particular appears to actually cause visceral fat cells to mature. A study of overweight kids who consumed fructose-laden drinks showed fat accumulation in the trunk, setting the stage for a big belly and even bigger future risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Sugar may be linked to cancer production and may effect cancer survival
When we consume too much sugar, we throw our insulin production out of whack. There’s a well documented connection between insulin resistance and cancer. (link between insulin resistance and cancer. There is also a connection between elevated sugar and poorer survival rates for some cancers. ( Further studies have found negative associations between high sugar and starch intake and survival rates in both breast cancer patients and colon cancer patients.

Sugar and aging? Uh huh.
A 2009 study found a positive relationship between glucose consumption and the aging of our cells. Aging of the cells can cause something as harmless as wrinkles to something as dire as chronic disease. But there is other alarming evidence that sugar may affect the aging of your brain as well. A 2012 study found that excess sugar consumption was linked to deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health. A 2009 study in rats showed similar findings.

Worth noting: Fruit has sugar but not the same as refined sugar: Not if the fruit in question is whole fruit. Unlike honey, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar that are added to many processed foods, the sugar naturally found in fruit is different. It is accompanied by consumed in the company of fiber, which helps your body absorb the sugar more slowly as well as promoting fullness – and, of curse, offering a host of vitamins and micronutrients. (Refined sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever.)

Words That Really Just Mean ‘Added Sugar’
• agave (juice, nectar, syrup)
• brown rice syrup
• corn sweetener
• corn syrup
• dextrose
• high fructose corn syrup
• honey
• malt sweetener
• malt syrup
• maltose
• rice syrup

(A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina conducted a detailed survey of the packaged foods and drinks that are purchased in American grocery stores and found that 60 percent of them include some form of added sugar. When they looked at every individual processed food in the store, 68 percent had added sugar.)

September 22, 2016   5 Comments


bitches-say-whatI get it.

I get why Secretary Clinton (I refer to people by their first names only if I know them. Or if they are Madonna) did not initially disclose her bout of pneumonia.

It’s not just that she’s a “private person,” as her aides and confidants say. It’s that she knows, boy does she ever know, that women are just not allowed to be fallible the way men are. If a woman gets sick, she is showing weakness. If a man gets sick, well, he gets sick. And look at how strong he was to keep working while he was sick! What stamina! And look at how he bounces back! What resilience!

This is not the HRC story. Here’s what’s trending (as they say): Look, she stumbled! Watch the video. Now watch it again. She had to be held up by secret service guys! Poor sickly lady. Is she too frail to be the president? Because, you know, women are frail creatures. If you discount all the medical evidence that shows women are constitutionally stronger than men, have fewer illnesses and live longer. So she’s that kind of frail.

Secretary Clinton has a case of pneumonia. Pneumonia is an incredibly common disease. It’s all around us. The reason most of us don’t catch it is because our immune systems kick in and beat it before it has a chance to take up residence in our lungs. Secretary Clinton’s immune system was busy handling not just the killing schedule of a presidential candidate and the grind of nonstop travel and public speaking and photo opping – that’s par for the course. We expect her (and the others) to handle that.

Her immune system was being assaulted by the added stress, the extraordinary burden, of being the most powerful and successful female political leader of her (any) generation. Of being the one with everything to lose (unlike Misters Trump and Sanders…who both had/have everything to gain). It is the internalized stress that comes from being called a bitch and having to pretend that doesn’t hurt. Of being criticized for not smiling. Seriously? When did that become a thing? Oh, I know: When a woman became the leading candidate.

And now, she is being criticized for not immediately disclosing the fact that she caught a (generally) easily cured common illness…while the other candidate skates along without disclosing his federal income taxes. Or, let’s see, his national security policies.

Women have to be better to be equal. Every woman alive today knows that. You have to be tough to be taken seriously. But if you’re tough, you’re a bitch. You can’t show emotion – PMS, anyone? – but if you don’t, you’re a bitch. If you’re not assertive, you’re timid. If you’re too assertive, you’re…yep, a bitch.

Secretary Clinton is a bitch with a lung infection. I hope the lung infection clears up soon. I hope she continues being a bitch.

September 14, 2016   3 Comments

I carry your heart


There’s nothing like being in the presence of  two people who are deeply, truly, honestly in love to open your own heart.

There is nothing like being in the presence of two people who manage to be both dizzyingly in love and clear-eyed about it, whose passion is fueled by compassion, to open your own heart, to bring you back to what you’ve not so much forgotten but have learned to take for granted.

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

September 7, 2016   1 Comment

Purpose. Meaning. Life.

cat looks outAnother day, another load of garbage delivered to my email in-box, the result of my long-standing Google alert for “anti-aging.” For more than 6 years, ever since I first started researching the science of aging for my book, Counterclockwise, I’ve been slogging through these daily “news” (yes, in quotes) items that purport to alert me to the latest and greatest information.

A good 75 percent of the items are about skin creams. Because, you know, the path to an engaged, vigorous, healthy life is surely to smooth out laugh lines. The other alerts run the gamut from the newest superfood (Are people still falling for that? Did we learn nothing from the Great Kale Hoax?) to the ultimate fitness regimen, with occasional tidbits on detoxing, botoxing, fasting, dead-skin eating fish, leech facials and the habits of celebrities far too young to have any experience with aging.

In more than 6 years, I have never ever gotten an alert to a story that suggests that “anti” aging is not a battle against the process of life but rather a positive approach to living life to its fullest, to pushing boundaries, to raising the bar, to living with engagement and joy and…purpose.

Yes, living a life with a sense of purpose may be the ultimate ”anti” aging strategy.

A while back, I wrote about meeting a vigorous, energetic 92-year-old woman who does just that. You may remember that I’ve also written about a related subject: volunteering, which can provide a strong sense of purpose. I mentioned a 2013 study published in the journal Psychology and Aging that found that mid-life adults who volunteered about 4 hours a week were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure 4 years later. Other studies discovered fewer health complaints, higher functional ability, less depression and anxiety, and less incidence of heart disease among volunteers than among matched sets of non-volunteers.

Here’s more evidence: National Institute on Aging-funded research based on more than 6,000 mid-life people found that people with a sense of purpose had a 15 percent lower risk of death, compared to their more aimless counterparts. The Canadian researchers controlled for other factors known to affect longevity like gender, age and emotional and psychological well-being. Sense of purpose trumped them all.

And, guess what? It didn’t appear to make a difference when these people found that purpose. It could have been in college. It could have been after retirement. You might be interested to know that “sense of purpose” is not limited to the grandiose – joining the Peace Corps, cleaning up a toxic river – but also involves the personal (insuring the well-being of one’s family, producing creative work).

Exactly how purpose benefits health is not clear. It might be that individuals with a sense of purpose are also purposeful about their own health and so lead healthier lives than others. But a likely explanation – especially given the research on the health benefits of volunteering – is that sense of purpose increases self-esteem, happiness and optimism, all traits associated with a myriad of health benefits. The researchers hypothesize that a sense of purpose may protect against the harmful effects of stress, one of the great systemic agers.

All of which goes to prove that living a healthy, vigorous and long life is not about miracle face creams or miracle foods or miracle work-outs. It is about the everyday miracle of building a rich, purposeful life.

September 1, 2016   4 Comments

Old. Yeah. So what?

IdaThe world – well, 3.5 billion of us, at least — just spent 17 days watching highly trained, super-disciplined, extraordinary physical specimens show us what a human body can do. Those Olympic performances were both inspirational and aspirational, weren’t they? I don’t mean that watching Simone Biles inspired me to want to be Simon Biles, to do what she does. Ha. I mean that marveling at her performances might inspire me (us) to push ourselves, to embrace (or at least entertain) the notion that we can move forward in bold and astonishing ways. We might aspire to the attitude behind her performance, the fierce determination that we are not defined or limited by our past. Her story inspires us more than her (unattainable) physical prowess.

Now that we have celebrated the Olympics, and now that we’re sated with images of hard-bodies who’ve devoted most of their young lives to athletic performance, how about celebrating much older people (much older people) who have attained equally lofty heights of physical achievement. Consider those profiled in a recent special edition of New York Times’ “Well” blog.

Here’s a story about Anna Sofia Botha, 74, the coach of the South African runner who broke the long-standing 400-meter world record. The news media flocked to her (after all, a WHITE HAIRED LADY!!!), clamoring for interviews. Surprised, she replied: “The whole coaching scenario is an everyday way of life for me.” Gotta love it.

Or how about this story profiling a 100-year-old runner. Says Ida Keeling, who started running at 67, “Time marches on, but I keep going.”

Or read about Tao Porchon-Lynch, 97, a competitive ballroom dancer (she started at 80) and a yoga teacher, who says, “I haven’t finished learning.”

When we see Olympic athletes compete, we don’t dismiss their performances as “the exception that proves the rule” – the rule being that almost none of us look like they do and can do what they do. Instead, we enjoy their achievement and are motivated by it. Maybe we can work on adopting that same attitude about these older “outliers.”

These women (and many others — you’d be surprised how many others) are outside the norm, just like the Olympic athletes. Let’s not dismiss them as exceptions that prove the (well entrenched) “rule” about older people, the rule that states that old means frail, feeble and fragile; that old people live constricted, restricted sad little lives. How about, just as we admire those Olympians and are inspired by their stories, we enjoy the stories of world-class (older) women and embrace the attitude behind their achievements? How about that?

August 24, 2016   1 Comment

Vacation…or lack thereof

backyard vacayIt’s the last half of August, the final chance for some of us to enjoy a summer vacation. Will we?

Maybe not.

Did you know that American workers get the least mandated, paid vacation time in the world. Zero, in fact. Employers in the U.S. don’t have to give their staff any paid leave – although some are paid for at least a few of our 10 national holidays. That means that many, many workers get no paid vacation. This is simply not the way the rest of the “first world” treats its workers. Just how many days of mandated, paid vacation do people get elsewhere? Here’s a partial list: Sweden, 41; Finland, 40; Lithuania, 39; France, Portugal, Iceland, 37; Austria, 35; Slovia, Croatia, Poland, France, 31; Italy, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, 30; U.K., Australia, 28. And so on.

Maybe as an American worker you get vacation days…or maybe not. (One in four do not.) When I worked as a caregiver at an Alzheimer’s facility (part of research for a book I was writing at the time), none of the hourly staff got any paid vacation – or, for that matter, any sick leave. At another of my jobs, workers were entitled to 1 week after 1 full year of employment, 2 weeks after 2 years. And that was the max.

That’s bad. Equally as pitiful is the fact that full-time employees in the U.S., when they are given vacation time, take only half of their eligible days. And more than 60 percent report working while on vacation. (I cannot remember a vacation during which I did not work.) We work hard. And a lot. And on vacation (if we are lucky enough to get vacation and smart enough to actually take advantage of it). So that must mean we have the most productive work force on earth.

Uh, no.

Norway – which requires all employers to provide 25 days of paid annual leave — has the most productive work force. Luxembourg (also with a 25-day minimum leave) has the second most productive work force. U.S. is number 3 (yay, us!) but it’s worth noting that numbers 4-7 (Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany) trail only ever so slightly in productivity while mandating a month of paid vacation for every worker.

I’ve written about this subject before, back in the spring when I returned from Austria where people eat more calories, consume more red meat and smoke more cigarettes than Americans…and are significantly healthier. One explanation (among many) is their national vacation policy. I thought it was worth writing again about the health effects of taking vacation while we still have a few weeks remaining in August. So listen up.

The landmark Framingham Heart Study – the largest and longest-running study of cardiovascular disease – found that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks compared to men who did take time off. And women who took a vacation only once every six years or less were almost 8 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or have a heart attack compared to women who vacationed at least twice a year. Lack of vacation has also been linked to higher blood pressure, bigger waistlines and increased incidence of depression.

It’s easy to see how more work can translate into other unhealthy behaviors: more stress, unhealthy eating habits (eating on the run/ in the car, reliance on take-out and fast food), more time sitting in a chair, less sleep, less family time.

While it’s still summer, take a vacation!

August 17, 2016   8 Comments