Want to live longer? Get a dog. Just don't walk it to the cake shop

Want to live longer? Get a dog. Just don’t walk it to the cake shop, says 84-year-old professor Norman Lazarus, who explains it’s never too late to get fit

  • Medical professor Norman Lazarus, 84, gives advice on ageing well in his book
  • Norman says; take vigorous exercise, get a dog, avoid salt and comfort-eating
  • He adds that there is no excuse, once retired, for purchasing ‘convenience foods’


The Lazarus Strategy : How To Age Well And Wisely

by Norman Lazarus (Yellow Kite £14.99, 192 pp)  

The world is getting to be such a dangerous place, as W. C. Fields observed, ‘a man is lucky to get out of it alive’.

When the coronavirus arrived, for example, and volunteers were needed to help out with vulnerable people, I put myself forward, only to be told I was one of the vulnerable people and to shut myself away indoors, with a blanket over my head for the duration. Otherwise, Goodnight Vienna.

As Norman Lazarus, a medical professor whose field is healthy ageing, would see it, my chief problem is that I have a Stone Age body, biologically programmed for hunting and chasing prey, ‘as lions and cheetahs do’. Unfortunately, this is the 21st century and I seldom waddle further than the cake shop.

It is essential, says Norman, to take vigorous exercise, as the heart doesn’t like being idle. Exercise releases nitrous oxide which dilates the coronary arteries, allowing the heart to receive more oxygen, filling a person with energy and bounce.

Professor Norman Lazarus advises acquiring a dog to take for long walks. Pictured: Labrador retriever with leash is waiting for walk

I started to wonder whether Norman was writing about human beings or cocker spaniels. But the author is certainly on to something when he says the decaying process begins at about 18 years of age, when our physical development reaches its peak — ‘good lungs and heart, a healthy circulatory system of arteries and veins doing their job, a well-maintained musculature’.

It is downhill thereafter, even if our atrocious lifestyles don’t catch up with us until middle-age, with heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, peripheral artery disease, lung disease, arthritis and back pain.

Not a pretty picture, I’ll readily concede. ‘The vast majority’ of the over-60s are ‘living under continual medical care’, taking tablets night and day, their weeks peppered with hospital appointments and trips to the GP.

Medical professor Norman Lazarus, 84

Oldies are, says Norman, who is 84, ‘an unnecessary burden on children, family, friends and country’, as they fall over and fracture their hips (76,000 people, ‘mainly women’, annually), lose their independence and rely on expensive carers, dutiful daughters and meals on wheels.

With age, the daily calorie requirement goes down but the appetite doesn’t; we carry on eating too much — 29 per cent of the adult population is clinically obese. A ‘kilogram of fat in a human contains about 7,700 calories’, which is enough stored energy to run from here to Australia, if you can be bothered to climb off the sofa.

Norman is saddened to see that, despite widespread medical advice, 95 per cent of diets fail, and blames supermarkets who want to ‘generate maximum profits’. There are also too many pictures of sizzling food in magazines, too many food programmes on telly, too many food features in newspapers. It’s as if we are being reminded to keep filling our faces.

What we must do, from early on in our lives if we wish to reach old age, is avoid salt, sugar, snacks and the pitfalls of comfort-eating and eating out of boredom.

Don’t glug oil on salads or thicken soups with croutons. Biscuits, confectionery, white bread and buns in plastic bags — these are the fruits of the devil. Yet look at all the blobby youngsters eating popcorn and crisps and slurping fizzy drinks, heedlessly and in full view in the street. Such persons, who also wear flip-flops and shorts, face a dire future.

If chronic diseases are not to creep up on everyone, the mass consumption of junk food has to stop. We must cease ‘screwing up the tummy-brain-muscle connection’, especially as Alzheimer’s may be associated with physical laziness. Also, with couch potatoes, the immune system weakens and they show ‘less ability to withstand infections’.

We must, says Norman, take responsibility for our own wellbeing and not expect magical remedies from the NHS and the ‘trillion-dollar industry’ generated by cardiac arrests, knee replacements, sleep apnoea, alcoholism and emphysema.

He is aghast that 1.75 million patients are prescribed statins, even when their problems with cholesterol are not yet apparent, only presumed.

His self-help memoir ‘The Lazarus Strategy: How to Age Well and Wisely’ offer advice on how to remain healthy as you age

The patients are not ill, but are treated as if they are, or soon will be. The lesson seems to be: guzzle what you want, pills will sort it out.

On the basis of such logic, ’80 per cent of the population could be eligible for one drug or another’ — and the pharmaceutical industry loves people to become dependent on their products.

Described in the Press as ‘the octogenarian professor who holds the secret of eternal youth’, Norman’s solutions are sheer common sense. You can’t reverse time or arrest age, but its effects can be mitigated by taking up cycling, running, digging the garden, joining a gym and actually going to it, getting keen on bird watching and acquiring a dog to take for long walks.

There is also no excuse, once retired, for purchasing ‘convenience foods’ — what else is there to do all day save potter in the kitchen, cooking healthy food?

‘Active elders,’ concludes Norman, ‘are better prepared for life’s vicissitudes.’

Everything stipulated in The Lazarus Strategy makes perfect good sense — if, that is, you have a nice pension, retain your marbles, have middle-class expectations and can afford regular holidays.

The book does not, I’m afraid, speak to the poor, the lonely, the widowed, the generally disaffected and the bewildered.

The terrible problems of depression, anxiety and stress are not mentioned — the inner life isn’t on Norman’s radar. Nor, despite all the organic vegetables and Pilates in the world, can a genetic inheritance be avoided. My grandfather died of prostate cancer at 69, my father of bowel cancer at 70. Why should I be any different?

Norman also skirts the problem of over-population. By 2050, there will be 434 million octogenarians in the world, which surely can’t be desirable. My proposal is that surplus oldies are polished off by being chased by lions and cheetahs.

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