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Unlocking the mysteries of aging
on November 5, 2012
We all understand the process of aging. If we're lucky enough to arrive in middle age in relatively good health, we can expect to begin packing on the pounds, then developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Pain and stiffness will become our daily companions. Stamina will decrease. Soon we'll be taking multiple prescriptions. A chronic disease will set in. We'll become frail, debilitated, dependent, and finally a victim of an advanced disease. This is the process of getting old, a process as inevitable as the rising and setting of the sun.
Except that it isn't. As Donald M. Vickery elaborates in this fascinating and groundbreaking book, age alone does not dictate any of the changes listed above. Some teenagers have high blood pressure and are overweight. Some 90-year-olds lead disease-free, pain-free, highly productive lives. Doctor Vickery, one of the founders of the self-care and wellness movement and co-author of "Take Care of Yourself," the world's best selling health guide, shows that aging has many root causes, only one of which we have no control over. This latter, which Vickery calls "real aging," science knows little about. It guarantees that no matter how well we take care of ourselves, we're going to die sometime between now and age 120 or so. So, he counsels, forget about that one. Instead, look at the root causes of aging that we can do something about.
Having set the stage, Vickery sets out on a long, comprehensive, and fascinating inquiry into the process of aging, profusely illustrating his words with charts, tables, graphs, and factoids. (Did you know that to be healthy, you should be taking 10,000 steps a day?) He discusses the disease processes that make us old and lays out a detailed personal plan "to change what can be changed" by confronting such root causes as physical disuse, mental disuse, poor diet, and stress.
This is not a book about staying young forever. In the book's final chapters Vickery writes about life's inevitable end, and gives moving witness to the human qualities of acceptance, resilience, and serenity. He understood those qualities intimately, for during the writing of this book he was diagnosed with lung cancer. For a man who had never smoked a cigarette in his life and who was, moreover, a leading light of the wellness movement, this must have been a crushing blow. That he finished the book before his death at the age of 64, with the assistance of his co-authors--his wife Carol, a public health nurse, and health/medical writer Larry Matson--is testament to his commitment to the very words he commends to others: take care of yourself, embrace life to the fullest, and accept what you cannot control, with dignity and grace.