HARVARD MAGAZINE (SEPT – OCT 2020): From the book EXERCISED: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do Is Healthy and Rewarding by Daniel E. Lieberman, to be published on September 8, 2020 by Pantheon Books:
‘….many of the mechanisms that slow aging and extend life are turned on by physical activity, especially as we get older. Human health and longevity are thus extended both by and for physical activity.’
Exercise is like scrubbing the kitchen floor so well after a spill that the whole floor ends up being cleaner. The modest stresses caused by exercise trigger a reparative response yielding a general benefit.
In order to elucidate the links between exercise and aging, I propose a corollary to the Grandmother Hypothesis, which I call the Active Grandparent Hypothesis. According to this idea, human longevity was not only selected for but was also made possible by having to work hard during old age to help as many children, grandchildren, and other younger relatives as possible survive and thrive. That is, while there may have been selection for genes (as yet unidentified) that help humans live past the age of 50, there was also selection for genes that repair and maintain our bodies when we are physically active.
Daniel E. Lieberman is a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University, where he is the Edwin M Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor in the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology. He is best known for his research on the evolution of the human head and the evolution of the human body.
The book follows the journey of a writer in search of wisdom, as he encounters twelve distinguished American men over 80 — including Paul Volcker, the former head of the Federal Reserve, and Denton Cooley, the world’s most famous heart surgeon. In these and other intimate conversations, the book explores and honors the particular way that each man faces four challenges of living a good old age: Am I still a man? Do I still matter? What is the meaning of my life? Am I loved?
We aspire to live in a country where old men are celebrated as vital elders but not demeaned if they become ill and dependent. We aspire to maintain health as well as maintain dignity and fulfillment in frailty. Old Man Country helps readers see and imagine these possibilities for themselves.
Readers will come to see how each man — even the most famous — faces universal challenges. Personal stories about work, love, sexuality, and hope mingle with stories about illness, loss and death. This book will strengthen each of us as we and our loved ones anticipate and navigate our way through the passages of old age.
Noted Harvard-trained geriatrician Louise Aronson uses stories from her quarter century of caring for patients and draws from history, science, literature, popular culture, and her own life to weave a vision of old age that’s neither nightmare nor utopian fantasy—a vision full of joy, wonder, frustration, outrage, and hope about aging, medicine, and life itself.
For more than 5,000 years, “old” has been defined as beginning between the ages of 60 and 70. Now that humans are living longer than ever before, many people alive today will be elders for 30 years or more. Yet at the very moment that most of us will spend more years in elderhood than in childhood, we’ve made old age into a disease, a condition to be dreaded, disparaged, neglected, and denied.
Lifespan, by geneticist David Sinclair and journalist Matthew LaPlante, provides a vision of a not-too-distant future in which living beyond 120 will be commonplace. For Sinclair and LaPlante, the answer lies in understanding and leveraging why we age…
Lifespan is entertaining and fast-paced — a whirlwind tour of the recent past and a near future that will see 90 become the new 70. In a succession of colourfully titled chapters (‘The demented pianist’, ‘A better pill to swallow’), Sinclair and LaPlante weave a masterful narrative of how we arrived at this crucial inflection point. Among the historical figures evoked are a sixteenth-century Venetian proponent of caloric restriction, Luigi Cornaro, and the twentieth-century ‘father of information theory’, Claude Shannon.