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03 Mar 2017

Don’t remove dignity out of the equation when it comes to growing old

When it comes to ageing well beware of false promises and profits.

Ever heard of Dr Jeffery Life aka Jeff Six Pack. From neck level above, he looks like a kindly chemist or the epitome of an avuncular soul that, chronologically at least, nature intended. Look below and you’d think you’re looking at a slightly leaner version of the Incredible Hulk...minus the green.

In the pursuit of ageing well, or appearing to do so, has Life gone too far?

Born in 1938 the ironically named Life credits his attempt at Peter Pan-dom to a mixture of eating well, exercising, and massive amounts of testosterone and growth-hormone injections. 

Is it worth it? Is Life actually killing himself? And whatever happened to growing old gracefully?

Time magazine sometime back tackled the subject of Amortality and why acting your age is a thing of the past. In the pursuit of being ‘forever young’ they say more and more people are behaving as if they’ll never grow old and then cautions...”is this such a good idea?”

Writer Catherine Mayer canvassed the spectrum of institutions and also states of mind pumping out the notion that you’re only as old as you feel as well as how much you’re willing to succumb to a combination of ‘sound’ scientific advice as well as vanity. 

At one extreme is the institution that uses Life’s litheness as its poster boy promotion. A place called Cenegenics not surprisingly based in Las Vegas.  A location, says Mayer, that “is built on land without water or any reliable resource apart from the blazing sun with resorts entombing visitors in the permanent, cool, and jangling dusk of casinos.” Where better to have a life support system that boasts of being “the world’s largest age-management practice.” 

With Cenegenics men are the predominant clientele. And with a definite nod to fashion, they’ve attired Life in a combination of snug shorts and a vest with scooped armholes...a style, the writer says, that is particularly fashionable in locales such as Greenwich Village in New York City but may be out of place anywhere else. 

The price tag for a one day assessment session at Cenegenics comes in at $US3,400. Mayer learns that, at 52, her physical condition turns out to be good, but not ‘optimal’ which turns out to be, as she says, the buzzword of the institution. 

To achieve that, she’s told by consulting doctor Jeffrey Leake (described as another paragon of muscularity), would entail a ‘fierce program of exercise and losing 5 to 7 kg’. Then comes the catch...the doctor also recommends starting on two steroid hormones—DHEA and testosterone—in pill and cream form respectively.

Remember this is a doctor recommending this and a doctor (and shareholder) being the poster (old) boy touting it. Certainly the weaning off poor diet, and the introduction of exercise, is commended. But the ‘fine print’ of supplements—which can cost in excess of $1,000 a month to achieve results—is that they are purveyed by the sorts of sources that brought East German Olympic gold success. 

As Mayer says: “testosterone and other steroids promote muscle mass. But taking testosterone can also cause depressed sperm production, elevated bad cholesterol, shrunken testicles, water retention and bad skin.” 

So what to do? Keep an eye on diet; get exercise; the ‘sins’ in moderation with allowance for ‘blow outs’; have fun...and most importantly what a noted psychiatrist and gerontologist Dr Robert Butler suggests: “Ageing, or more accurately its converse, staying young, is a state of mind that defies the measurement.”