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Photo: Mint
Photo: Mint

Eat, bake, love

There is a difference between your chronological age and your biological age. How do you measure it? And can you grow younger?

It’s been more than a year now since dad was felled by a stroke while on a break in Mumbai. He continues to remain in a vegetative state and the best that can be done is offer palliative care.

That said, every once a while, I sit by his side and look at him dispassionately. He lived a good life. I mean that in a holistic sense. He was a happy man, cared for himself in every which way, did all that he possibly could for mum, my brother and me, enjoyed his singing and his music, was sociable, had a good bunch of friends, rarely lost his temper and, at least from my perspective, lived an uncomplicated life.

If I were to input all of these traits for a man in his mid-40s into a widget called Confused, originally created by a British insurance firm to help people identify the right kind of insurance and financial service products they need, my dad ought to live to be 87. But he’s only 68 and got hit when he was 67. What did the algorithms get wrong, I wondered.

I’m not entirely sure what goes into the black box that computes these metrics—but I suspect it is on the back of data actuarial firms collate over the years to hazard a reasonably decent guess, on the basis of which premiums for an individual can be collated.

The questions this widget pose include intangible ones like “How happy are you?" that can honestly only be answered by the individual who takes it. I can only hazard a guess on the basis of what I know of dad. I can only assume he would have answered “Very happy". But the human mind is a complex thing and who is to know what plays inside of it?

That is why I thought I might as well take a stab at playing around with it. The outcome this widget gave psyched me. I will turn 44 in November. After inputting my answers, the damn thing tells me I got 24 years of life left in me. Creepy. Because that is exactly how old dad is right now.

I tried a few different answers to some questions to change the status of my current self that I can change right away. But the best-case scenario this widget says is I cannot last more than 27 years. “Oh fuggghhhh!!" I muttered as I stared at the screen in disbelief.

This couldn’t be true. I had to look at something else that could corroborate these numbers.

Some digging later, I stumbled across Share Care, a seemingly more rigorous platform. After I signed up, it asked me a series of questions, again, answers to which only I could honestly answer. This too included intangible ones like “Do you have a good social life?", “What kind of relationship did you have with your parents?", “What is the quality of your marriage?", my past and current habits, mental state, medical conditions, food habits and a whole lot of other quantifiable things.

It factored in for my ethnicity and genetic predisposition as well. To that extent, it was a personalized report. It took a while to complete. At the outset, I was told it takes on an average about 20 minutes to complete the questionnaire. I suspect I may have taken a while longer. At the end of it all, the exercise threw up a number that had me, well, psyched.

Chronologically, I will turn 44 later this year. But it seems, biologically my body is now 57.6 years old. It took me a while to absorb that my body is 13.8 years physically older than what it ought to be. “Oh fuggghhhh!!!!" I muttered and cursed.

Some furious pacing up and down later, I stacked the widget created by the insurance firm and Share Care against each other. I started out on the assumption that the algorithms that power these have some merit in them. After having factored that in, I started with some mental math and informed guesswork.

Given the kind of advances medicine has made, it will do all it can to hold my body out for 25 years more and push its genetic potential to what I was born with—87 years.

But biologically, I am closing in on 58. This is because when I was younger, I thought late-night alcohol-infused binges, chain smoking, junk food, being part of the rat race to get to wherever I intended to get to and a crazy life were, well, par for the course.

Something had to give. Without my knowing it, the body took all of the punches, but it aged. And so, here I am. What is a man to do? I insist on being around when iOS 20 is rolled out or Apple gets dislodged—whichever comes first. To witness that, I will have to reverse my ageing process.

A man has got to begin somewhere. I started out with what I believe are informed guesses made over the years.

As a thumb rule, on the paternal side of my family, there is a genetic propensity to get consumed by some hazardous condition when men get into the latter half of their 60s until they eventually capitulate. This, in spite of the fact that most of them lived happily and well as seen from my eyes.

In their earlier years, most of them were hippies of sorts who loved their booze, enjoyed good tobacco, consumed greasy foods in significant quantities and enjoyed good, you know, companionship. Until the church or their significant others reformed them. While the good life made them happy, it must have taken some toll on their bodies as well.

All that said, as far as I am concerned, there are two ways to look at it from here.

1. Ask “What have I done to myself?", mope about it for the next odd quarter of my life these algorithms tell me I have left.

2. Figure out: “What can I do to get out of this shithole?"

Thinking up worst-case scenarios lead to paralysis by analysis and are best avoided. While prudence is certainly a virtue, I think there is more to be gained from looking at optimistic outcomes. So, this is what it looks like to me:

• In tinkering around with this widget and platform, some hacks exist to actually reverse ageing and improve the quality of life. The first thing is to acknowledge that after looking at patterns on my paternal side, a genetic susceptibility exists towards Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and stroke-related disorders. But all thanks to the Human Genome Project (HGP), rapid progress is being made towards finding a cure for all of these disorders in the near future. Take solace in that and get on with life.

• Then, there are little things I can do every day at a time and interval of my choosing to improve my longevity and enhance the quality of life. On Share Care, a community has sprung up focused on doing just that. Challenges exist, with people from across the world as part of it sharing their experiences that you can opt in for and you can actually measure the outcomes.

• For instance, if I were to meditate for 10 minutes every day, in 21 days, I can reverse my biological age by 13 days. There is a community out there that engages in guided practice and maintain logs. For a while though, I have used the pro version of an app though called HeadSpace on my phone that I intermittently use for 10-20 minutes. But heck, if I can reverse 13 days of my biological age every single day by using it for 20 minutes when I wake up at my usual 4am and stare into nothingness for 30-odd minutes before I get on with the routine that is life, I will be younger by 13 days for every 21 days I use it. That’s a pretty damn good incentive to use it every day and maintain logs. It doesn’t eat into my working hours either.

• As things are, I can manage 10 push-ups at one go when done the right way. There is a challenge on by the community to increase it to 20 push-ups by the end of the month. Something I can attempt at any point during the day and log it on the spreadsheet and let the others know as well. Even as the yays come in, for every month I do it, I reverse my age by eight days. Not a bad deal, eh?

• I’m a sucker for sandwiches all of the time. But thanks to the community and the network of professional doctors who are part of it, I now know that most breads contain a preservative called calcium propionate—including the whole wheat bread us “health conscious" urban folks buy off the shelf. You won’t know of it until you look at that packet of bread you buy and look closely for something that reads “Class II preservative (282)". Yes, that is calcium propionate. It prevents bakery products from moulding.

In very small quantities, it is non-toxic and approved for use by all regulatory authorities. But research has it that when propionic acid is injected into the brains of rodents, it creates undesirable changes in the brain.

That said, the body needs it as well as in the form of organic whole grain to keep the arteries young. Which is what the wife has been telling me all along. Don’t consume the damn thing until it is freshly baked. How to do it is a skill she possesses in abundance. Else, stick to freshly made Indian breads like chapati, even as I stare at my egg sandwich with sausages longingly.

Then there are exponential leaps that can be taken if you know your personality type. For instance, if I were to switch off and do nothing after my day’s work I am the kind who’d literally get bored. That can have a direct bearing on life expectancy and bring it down back to the 24 years I now have.

Instead, if I deploy this time on what I perceive is productive like learning to code Python, the algorithms suggest the activity will “make me happy". If I am “happy", the dashboards indicate I can increase my longevity by a year.

But, as against that, I feel “very happy" in spending time with my daughter, discussing what her day was like. Each night, she insists on hearing a new story. I have to rack my brain to come up with one that fits her criteria. This can add two years to my life.

So, I might as well argue “screw Python", persuade the wife to bake bread, muck around with the kids, and live longer and happier.

Incidentally, hugging your significant other randomly for 30 seconds a day adds to intimacy. In turn, expect frequent lovemaking and, therefore, frequent orgasms. At least 100 of these each year can add to your life expectancy by three to eight years. And make you look younger.

Charles Assisi is co-founder of Founding Fuel Publishing.

His Twitter handle is @c_assisi

Comments are welcome at feedback@livemint.com

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