PUMPING IRONY: This Is Getting Old

Hearing of the death of the world’s oldest man, I fight the compulsion to obsess over longevity.

Earlier this month, the oldest man on earth, a Japanese fellow named Jiroemon Kimura, died at the age of 116. News reports tabbed him as the longest-living male in recorded human history. Kimura attributed his longevity to rising early each morning, eating only small amounts of food (including his favorite meal of rice porridge and miso soup), reading the newspaper, and watching Japanese parliamentary debates on TV.

This is going to be a tough act to follow.

All the recent sleep research emphasizes the importance of getting plenty of sleep, so rising early every morning would require that I hit the hay, say, before 10 every night. And I suspect that if I was rolling out of the sack at dawn, I’d be pretty sleep-deprived pretty quickly. That can’t be good. I’ve never sampled a bowl of rice porridge, and though I have encountered miso soup at various points in the past, it’s not something I would go out of my way to order.

I do read the newspaper every day, mostly for the sports news and the comics. But I can’t imagine anything as soul-deadening as tuning into C-Span to catch some random Congressional committee hearing.

I’m not really worried, though. Nobody sets out to live for 116 years. I doubt that Mr. Kimura had any such presumptions, though news reports noted that he was blessed with some serious longevity genes: Four of his siblings lived into their 90s and his youngest brother died at 100. At a certain point, I imagine you just get really old and stop thinking about it.

I’m going to be 62 in a couple of months, which seems like a very small number after digesting the news of Kimura’s death, and the fact that Japan is home to 51,000 centenarians. Makes me feel like a teenager.

Still, these are just numbers. I know a few people in their 70s who act like they’re 30 years older and some others who could pass as 50-somethings. The difference is mostly in outlook and energy. After he retired from the post office, Kimura worked on his son’s farm until he hit 90. There’s a certain built-in routine inherent in that sort of work that probably keeps you pushing on. My grandpa Winters was a farmer, and even after he’d given up the plow and settled on a small parcel of land owned by his son-in-law, he still got up at sunrise every morning to tend his garden and feed his chickens. And he was still flirting with young women when he died at 93. Must be something in the dirt.

Before you all quit your office jobs and move to the country to pick soybeans, though, you should consider the fact that lots of farmers die young — as do plenty of office workers. Despite anything you may have read on the latest longevity studies (yogurt, seafood, community, etc.), there’s no clear path to a long and vital life. It’s kind of a crap shoot. Enjoy the moment.

The new holder of the world’s oldest person title is a 115-year-old Japanese woman, Misao Okawa. She eats a lot of mackerel sushi. I’m not going there.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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