Aging, Biology and Attitude

National Geographic magazine’s May, 2013 issue runs an interesting story about long life, health and genetics of aging – “On Being 100” . The article takes the usual course of how genetic research is trying to unravel the mysteries of why some people live over 100 years and more. Not so appealingly, I find that the final goal post of this research is ‘learning how these genes work’ which ‘could help extend life for us all’. I mean, seriously? I thought the obsession with extending life was tapering off. And it takes a cover story like this in Nat Geo or Scientific American or Science to bring it back. Truly, sometimes I feel glad to have made a switch from life sciences to arts. It helps me put those test tubes and microscopes in a much larger perspective than its impression as world changing research.

But, the point of this post is the third word – attitude. It would be a fairly long time when biology would be able to account for this in any manner. Of course there is behaviour studies but that doesn’t quite deal with people’s attitudes in the same spirit in which it unfolds in real life. We could be talking psychology, psychoanalysis and some behavioural biology but an individual’s outlook to life, his habits formed over the years, his attitude and handling of situations in life – I think all this amounts to his well-being and longevity. And this is reflected by a ‘young’ lady covered in this Nat Geo piece – Marion Stehura who is 103 years old.

Marion Stehura, 103 (Image: National Geographic, May, 2013)
Marion Stehura, 103 (Image: National Geographic, May, 2013)

The brief describes her as:

Growing up in Lorain, Ohio, Stehura wanted to “do the things boys do,” like play ball and “be rough.” Today, in Hemet, California, she gets a kick out of whistling loud and long in big-box stores when she shops with son John; it’s the way she used to call her sons home when they were young. Riding an electric cart provided by the store, she brags. “My whistle could blow this place to pieces.”

It probably can! If not her whistle, her attitude sure blows apart the general notions people carry about their lives. I strongly believe that self-preservation beyond the limits of disease and ailments is a poor channelization of human beings’ creative abilities. Probably, even she wouldn’t know what makes her go past 100 and still live at 103. Nor do I think her genetic constitution can be a reasonable answer.

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