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Book Review: 'The Roadmap to 100' by Walter M. Bortz II and Randall Stickrod

April 24, 2010 | 12:25 pm

RoadmapcoverWhat if you could live to 100 and not just survive but thrive -- even in your elder years? Dr. Walter M. Bortz II and Randall Stickrod, authors of "The Roadmap to 100," say it's not only possible but probable that many of us will do so.

There will be as many as 6 million centenarians in the world by the middle of this century -- most of them healthy, functional and largely independent, Bortz and Stickrod write. But conversely, there's also a large population that may die at a younger age than the previous generation and be in poorer health while alive, putting a strain on healthcare resources, they say. 

Which of these groups people fall into largely is not determined by hereditary factors but by lifestyle choices, they write. "Longevity is neither an accident nor an isolated phenomenon. It is a product of specific healthy behaviors, a direct consequence of health maintenance."

With "Roadmap," Bortz and Stickrod say, they are "issuing a clarion call to reclaim ownership of our health, to learn to take responsibility for it and not rely blindly on medical technology to repair the damage we do to ourselves."

They present a persuasive case, backed up by numerous studies, and outline specific behaviors people can adopt to live longer and live well. However, they may be preaching to the choir. Their science-oriented book is geared to an educated reader who probably already knows the components of a healthy lifestyle. 

Bortz is no stranger to the topic. He's former co-chairman of the American Medical Assn.'s Task Force on Aging, former president of the American Geriatric Society and author of "Dare to Be 100." Stickrod, a science and technology publisher and writer, was the founding executive publisher of Wired magazine.

The two have examined studies and writings on aging, exercise, obesity, nutrition and disease and come up with several factors they believe contribute to longevity. Their top prescription for a long and productive life might be summed up in two words: Move more.

Historically, they say, humans were much more physically active than we are today. As hunter-gatherers we walked or ran up to 10 miles a day. But today surveys show that as many as 4 of every 10 U.S. adults are largely inactive. 

They cite study after study pointing to the notion that exercise is crucial to helping stave off heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Type 2 diabetes and more. (They make clear that there are no guarantees of health with exercise, that it's a matter of bettering the odds against illness.)

One section is devoted to the benefits of running -- a personal passion for Bortz, who recently ran his 40th marathon at age 80 -- but any type of aerobic exercise will do, they say. Less strenuous physical activities that strengthen muscles and increase oxygen intake also are beneficial. "Rejoice in your gift of movement. Walk. Run. Fidget. Put your joints to work. Jump (when was the last time you jumped?). Bend. Stretch. Throw your arms over your head. Swim. Play ball."

And though exercise can help you live longer, being engaged in life can help you live well. The presence of meaningful relationships and a sense of purpose are common factors among centenarians, they write. They also note the benefits of a healthy sex life, a positive attitude and a diet of nutritious foods eaten in moderation. 

"The Roadmap to 100" is authoritatively written, and often readable and engaging, especially when it's describing medical studies, telling stories of centenarians' lives and giving advice. But it wobbles between being a scientific tome and a popular health book and occasionally wanders into challenging territory with conceptual language that may lose some readers. 

-- Anne Colby

Photo: "The Roadmap to 100: The Breakthrough Science of Living a Long and Healthy Life," by Walter M. Bortz II and Randall Stickrod, Palgrave Macmillion, $25

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