Give it up, Ponce de León — there are no magical fountains of youth out there, no miraculous ways to achieve a longer life. But while medical experts caution against hormone supplements, vitamin overdoses, anti-aging pills, extreme diets, and other dubious life extension tricks, there are some sound ways for men to increase their chances for a long and healthy life. Much of the advice is obvious: Don’t smoke, eat wisely, drink moderately, exercise regularly, and get annual medical check-ups. But some of the tips from geriatric specialists and male health experts are not only surprising, they sound fun.
The good news about male longevity is that much of it is under our control. Robert Butler, MD, is professor of geriatrics at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York and head of the non-profit International Longevity Center. Butler says “Only about 25% of what determines the length of life we have is based on genes. The rest is up to us.” Butler says this is based on the famous Danish Twins Registry study, which began in 1954 and has yielded a huge volume of information about genetic and lifestyle factors involved in health and aging.
Do you insist on rising at five to run each morning, even when your back is aching, black ice coats the streets, and your wife beseeches you to stay in bed? Do you only feel good when you’re training for triathlons? Is eating merely a way to replenish for the next race? Then you, my Spandex-clad friend, may have an exercise addiction.
Long life outlook: Can a little wine (or beer) help you improve with age?
You don’t have to lead an ascetic’s existence to extend your life. In fact, recent studies show that light to moderate drinking can reduce your risk of cardiovascular death. “The key word here is moderate,” cautions Butler. “We’re probably talking about two drinks a day for men. And my own advice to folks is about one drink a day. The older you get, the heavier the impact of the alcohol. But in moderation, alcohol not only has a relaxing effect, it can elevate levels of good cholesterol.”
According to a Netherlands study released in March, wine is more beneficial than other kinds of alcohol. The life expectancy of men who drank wine was more than two years longer than those who imbibed other alcoholic beverages. Earlier studies have shown that red wine may have an additional heath benefit because the polyphenolic compounds found in the darker beverage counter the build-up of fatty tissue in the arteries that can lead to strokes or heart attacks.
The health advantages of wine over other spirits might be exaggerated, Lawrence Greenblatt, MD, believes. But Greenblatt toasts the general idea of moderate drinking. “I think the business about red wine vs. beer or some other alcohol is probably not true after you adjust for other risk factors,” says Greenblatt, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Duke University Medical Center who sees mostly male patients in his Duke Outpatient Center practice. “People who drink beer, for instance, tend to be of a lower socioeconomic status than someone drinking Cabernet at dinner. So they have other risk factors working against their life expectancy. Once you adjust for those factors, probably any kind of alcohol would be protective, in moderation.”