Acclaimed science journalist Bill Gifford will be at Words Bookstore in Maplewood on Saturday, March 21 at 7:30 p.m. to read from and sign copies of his new book, “Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying).”
In his quest to separate anti-aging myth from fact, Gifford — correspondent for Outside magazine who has written on science, sports, and fitness for numerous publications — took a deep dive into the science (and psudoscience) behind the quest to live longer.
What he learned might surprise readers.
For example: did you know that many experts believe hormone replacement therapy might actually accelerate aging? Or that intermittent, short-term fasting has been shown to add years? (And then there’s the creepy history of a brief public fascination with injections of crushed-up dog testicles.)
Gifford acknowledges “there’s no magic bullet” when it comes to turning back the clock, but there are things people can do to stack the deck in their favor.
Published by Hachette, “Spring Chicken” has been called “a whip-smart guide to living a longer and healthier life” and “a masterful exploration of the fantasy and fact surrounding one of the most fundamental questions of humankind: why do we age?” Kirkus said, “Gifford skillfully navigates the many strands of aging research to create an entertaining narrative of the perils of getting old.”
The Village Green interviewed Gifford recently by email. Here are his responses.
What gave you the idea to write Spring Chicken? Was there an event that spurred you on, or was it just a general curiosity to delve into the subject matter?
Turning 40, in short. I started to get curious about this process that was going on in me, and everyone else, and decided to try to understand it. The real galvanizing event, though, the thing that made it personal, was the death of my beloved dog, Theo, right during Superstorm Sandy. He was almost twelve, and I’d seen him go from a puppy to an old guy in less than a dozen years. The whole arc of the aging process played out right before my eyes, and the results were tragic and devastating.
What surprised you the most in researching the book? What was the craziest or scariest anti-aging treatment you came across?
There are an awful lot of scams out there, many pushed by “anti-aging” doctors, people with medical degrees who nonetheless prescribe unproven and often unsafe treatments to people. In the former category, I’m thinking of things like TA-65, a very expensive supplement that is supposed to lengthen your telomeres; there’s no proof whatsoever that it will make you live longer. And then there are hormone replacement treatments and human growth hormone, which may in fact accelerate the aging process. The scientists I spoke with all think HGH is about the worst thing you could possibly take.
Was there anything you learned that you have incorporated into your life?
One of the most interesting discoveries was that intermittent or short-term fasting, even just skipping a meal or two, can have great benefits as far as increasing the stress resistance of your cells. It’s similar to the benefits they’ve found with dietary restriction, but without the painful chronic hunger. So I’m OK with skipping breakfast or lunch once in a while, because I know the hunger is doing me good.
The other thing I’ve done is really make exercise a part of my life, and in a way that’s fun for me. I go riding with a group of friends each Sunday, and we go hard, so I have to work out the rest of the week to stay in shape. And then we reward ourselves by drinking beer—which is also very healthy.
What do you hope readers take away from the book? Are there ways to fight aging, or should we all just accept the inevitable?
There’s no magic bullet for aging, so that’s not what I’m offering. I want people to understand it as a natural phenomenon, for starters, and then I hope people who read my book will become more intelligent consumers of health news. Lastly I’d hope to inspire people to try and be more like some of the extraordinary older people I met, who are working, thriving, and even pole-vaulting into their 80s and beyond.
What made you decide to visit our fair hamlet?
Maplewood is a great little town (where my adorable nieces Della and Daphne happen to live), and Words is one of those wonderful little independent bookstores that really helps anchor a community. They’ve got a great roster of events and I’m psyched to be part of it.
Words Bookstore, 179 Maplewood Avenue, Maplewood NJ.