Book Review – A Short Guide to a Long Life – David Agus

Healthy Habits

Healthy Habits
A Short Guide to a Long Life

I admit that I’ve been wrong. I’ve long argued that people know what healthy habits are and that we just don’t do them. So I was shocked, recently, when a friend told me that he traded his cake and candy snacks for a jar of peanuts each day. “I’m trying to eat healthy”, he says. “Huh? You’re eating a jar a day?” “Yeah! Better than donuts, right.” Now he was shocked. “Probably not,” I said. “Good gawd. Do you know how many calories are in a jar of peanuts? Probably more calories than you need in an entire day. Dude, you’re going to end up weighing 300 pounds.” He didn’t believe me and grabbed the jar. Sure enough, the suggested serving size was one ounce or ‘about 29 peanuts’. That amount conferred 170 healthy calories. Multiply that by sixteen servings in the jar and you are inviting serious health issues. So don’t imagine that everyone knows the things that Agus writes about. They don’t. And few who do know what healthy means actually live by it.

We need good health advice but where to find it? The fact that my local Barnes and Noble bookstore reserves about fifty feet of shelf space for books offering conflicting advice isn’t a help. So when I find a book offering sane advice consistent with other sane advice, I’m happy to endorse and recommend it. A Short Guide to a Long Life is such a book.

Sane Advice is a Hard Sell

The book isn’t sexy and makes few promises. You will not be a skinny rich movie star pooping golden eggs after reading this book. But, even better, if you choose to do so, you can embark on a path to increased health and longevity. The book is small and short and this bothers some reviewers. I like that the book can be read in a couple hours. It makes it easy to grab from the shelf for a quick reminder of the path you’re on. In it, Agus lists sixty-five tidbits under three headings: What to Do, What to Avoid, and Doctor’s Orders. I’m sorry but there is nothing new, novel, or earth-shattering here. No magic pills or secret Chinese bulbs that will keep you in perfect health until age 150. What you will find is very excellent advice in all areas of health and well-being. Advice that is time-tested and accurate. Advice that actually will help you live longer and happier.

Healthy Habits
You know what they say – seventeen carrots a day will keep the sickness away!

There is a good bit of Grandma’s advice here – grow a garden, don’t skip breakfast, have children (!) – but lots of new stuff, too, like scheduling your life on computer or getting a DNA screen. I especially liked the What to Avoid section where he slays a host of health myths: forget juicing (“Does your body really need ten carrots all at once?”), ignore `detoxes’, and no, GMOs are not going to kill you and your children.

This is a wonderfully handy little guide that makes a useful reference. Two thumbs way up. Read it all the way through or read a chapter and then work on it for a week. Either way will lead you to better health.

Purchase here on Amazon.

David Agus at the Aspen Ideas Festival: Look At The Data
David Agus, MD homepage here
More good advice here from Monica Reinagel, The Nutrition Diva

From the blog:
Make Healthy Eating Easy
Doing Hard Things for Your Health
She Hired a Track Coach at 77!

You think you’re old? Ha! She hired a track coach at 77. BR – What Makes Olga Run?

Olga began competing in track and field at 77. By the time of her death at 95, she had won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? Nothing that any doctor or researcher could determine. Her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy but not exotic or rigorous diet. She exercised daily. She maintained a positive outlook. But certainly, she was unique. Somehow all those normal parts added up to an extraordinary whole. The book offers no magic. No crazy diets. Only good advice that is easy to follow for longevity and happy living. An interesting and provoking read.


Olga Run
At 77 she hired a sprinting coach. Then went on to throw the shot put. What is your excuse, again?

Copyright Dennis Mitton

So far, longevity has eluded the Mitton men. My Grandfather, and then my Father, died at a young 67. No four-score-and-seven for them. And 67 is a hop and a skip from where I sit. Both died from cancer. The best guess about my Grandfather’s death is granite dust. He was a stone cutter as a young man and turned stone pillars for government buildings all over Washington State. He didn’t smoke and had no history of cancer so granite dust was the cause that made the most sense to his doctors. The cause of my Dad’s disease was more confusing. He smoked but had no problems with his lungs. His mom died at 92 and lived the life of Annie Oakley until the Saturday morning she died. Twice a week she drove her golden boat – a 1967 Ford Galaxie four-door – from Milton to Tacoma for organ lessons. Wise drivers pulled over as she went by. Only the top of her head peeked from above the steering wheel and she took up two of the four lanes along the road. Trouble was no one could be sure which two she would take. And she didn’t much care. There were organs to be played!

Olga’s Mystery – Why Is She so Healthy?

We are far from figuring out how to stop aging though we are learning much. Exercise is essential. A good diet necessary. Good friends and healthy relationships help. The right genetics are contributors but not as much as we once thought. But longevity is only half the calculation. We want to live well. We want to be engaged in life. To keep learning. I want to race my Grand Daughter in her first 5k. And beat her. I want to watch my girl’s guitar recital. I want to wipe the tear from my wife’s eye when the twins move to Paris to live out their dreams – one to be a great artist and the other to design clothes for pets.

One person who lived long and well was Olga Kotelko. She began competing in track and field at 77, about thirty years after most people have died inside. By the time of her death at 95, she won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? Nothing says the author of What Makes Olga Run? Her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy but not exotic or rigorous diet. She exercised daily. She maintained a positive outlook. But certainly, she was unique. Somehow all those normal parts added up to an extraordinary whole.

Olga’s Secret? There is no secret.

In What Makes Olga Run?, Bruce Grierson jumps head first into the whats, whys, and hows, of Olga. He attempts to understand what makes her tick. What he finds is that this extraordinary woman is, by most metrics, not very extraordinary. There is no magic here. Readers looking for super foods, esoteric yoga mantras, or exotic training regimens won’t find them here. Olga’s story is remarkable in how unremarkable it is. Grierson follows Olga through just about every test one can think of: stress tests, DNA analyses, diets, psychological examinations – and in every case she comes out normal or close to it. But somehow, in Olga, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Olga is extraordinary. At 77, when most people are dead or dying, she hires a Hungarian track coach and begins a daily training regimen. She eats a nutritious but not remarkable diet. She loves competition. She loves to win. She was upbeat and refused to dwell on the dark side of things. Somehow all of that added up to an uncommon life of steady and satisfying accomplishment.

Nine Rules

Olga Longevity

The author ends with Nine Rules for Living that summarize simplicity and health. But for him, ‘Olga’s biggest gift’ is a change in perspective. He records her advice:

Look around. These are your kids. This is your wife. This is your life. Its awesomeness is eluding you. Pay attention. Yes, there will come a time when you have genuine, life-threatening ailments. But, for now, stop your kvetching. And stop dreading birthdays that end in zeros. Those zeros can pull you under, like stones in your pocket. At your age, your story is not ending: you know that.

Grierson’s Nine Rules that anyone can follow:

  1. Keep moving
  2. Create routines
  3. Take opportunists
  4. Be honorable and trustworthy
  5. Believe in something
  6. Lighten up
  7. Build on small wins
  8. Do what is fun
  9. Start now.

My Three Take-Aways for Longevity

Forget charcoal milkshakes and cryotherapy. Quit spending hundreds a month on supplements. So far, I’ve yet to find any real, science-based evidence that the following three guidelines are wrong:

  1. What you already know about good health is true. Eat well. Exercise. Sweat a little every day. Enjoy friends a family.
  2. Maintain a good attitude. Embrace optimism. Eschew pessimism. Keep a good perspective.
  3. Your bad habits can be reversed. You can improve your heart health. You can enjoy time with your family again. Every decision, every step, every bite represents a fork in the road that leads to an end that you chose.

The book is not meant to be a textbook. There are passages, especially concerning biology, that could have been written more accurately. But precision in a book like this usually translates into boring. And the book is not boring. It is well written, reads easily, and is adequately documented.

An uplifting and provoking read.