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Rolling Stones: How They Keep Rockin'

Are there health secrets that let these aging rock stars strut across stages year after year?

How Mick Starts It Up continued...

Guitarist Keith Richards, 62, reportedly kicked his heroin habit in the 1970s, but still smokes and drinks up a storm. Just last year he was voted "rock's biggest hell-raiser" by the VH1 music channel.

Relatively little is known about the condition of the oldest Stone, 64-year-old drummer Charlie Watts. But the youngest, 58-year-old guitarist Ron Woods, is likely closest to the cliff's edge. Just last year he announced that he had just played his first Stones show while sober.

Woods sidelines as a painter; one of his paintings recently sold for over $1 million. His passion for painting -- as well as his desire to stay with the Stones -- has kept him from succumbing to alcohol, according to a report in the British newspaper, the Daily Mail.

"They have an extraordinary talent, and that helps them weather the consequences of their behavior better than the average person," says Paul Mulhausen, MD, a geriatrician at the University of Iowa's medical school.

Why They Still Rock

A generation ago, a man in his mid-60s was an old man. Today, he's part of a group that gerontologists call the "young old." They're the beneficiaries of new lifestyle habits, new advances in health care, and new expectations.

As the Stones were getting huge in the 1960s, The Who were singing, "Hope I die before I get old." Cohen says the generation gap then emerging was really an education gap. The average person over 65 back then had just 8.6 years of education -- no match for college-educated flower children.

Now, the baby boomers who grew up with the Stones and The Who are getting a bit long in the tooth themselves. Better educated than their forebears, they also want to stay active longer. And they're willing to plunk down serious cash to see the Stones for reasons largely unrelated to music. The Stones remind them what it felt like to be young, even as they defy the common wisdom about what will happen when they get old.

Staying Engaged

In fact, the Stones confirm an emerging consensus that staying active leads to better physical and mental health in later years. "One of the keys to successful aging is to remain engaged," Mulhausen says. "Find something you're passionate about and stay passionate about it. People who do that are happier as they grow older than people who are disengaged. And being a musician really allows one the opportunity to remain engaged through the life span."

Research is emerging that challenging the older brain and body can help ward off degenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

Of course, Mick and his pals are just part of a growing roster of prominent musicians who have stayed active well into their golden years (see Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and so on). Most of these guys don't need the money. They stay active because rock and roll keeps them young -- a good lesson for baby boomers, Cohen says.

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