Book Review

Florian Fisch

William Cortvriendt:
Living a Century or More. A Scientifically Fact-Based Journey to Longevity.

Paperback: 380 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (7 Feb. 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1492870080
ISBN-13: 978-1492870081
€22 (paperback).

Quick facts for healthy ageing - Hard Work for a Long Life

For those who want to live for 100 years, William Cortvriendt carefully discusses the influence of 25 factors. The inspiration to leading a carefree life must, however, be found elsewhere.

Everyone who wants to live a long life should pay attention to five remote regions on Earth. The people living there seem to be quite successful in postponing death. Those life-prolonging regions are:

  • a mountainous area in Sardinia, Italy,
  • the Japanese Island Okinawa,
  • the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica,
  • the Greek Island of Ikaria and
  • a community of Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California.

By studying the lifestyle of these communities – called blue zones – two research groups have identified some common elements: regular and natural physical activity, a strong sense of purpose, a daily moment of relaxation and spirituality, moderate eating behaviour, high vegetable and fruit diet, no food supplements, moderate alcohol consumption during meals, no smoking, tight communities and no forced retirement (Experimental Gerontology 2004, 39:1423 / National Geographic Books, 2008).

This lady has five years to enjoy before reaching her century. Photo: wk

A solid handbook

Have the inhabitants of the blue zones unravelled the mystery of a long and healthy life? William Cortvriendt, a Dutch medical doctor with long experience in the pharmaceutical business, sifted through 500 relevant scientific publications on many much-discussed factors for extending life expectancy. The result is compiled in the book, Living a Century or More – A Scientifically Fact-Based Journey to Longevity.

Cortvriendt, father of three children and inspired by his apparently happy and healthy parents in their mid-nineties, wants to change our medical attitude to health, “We are caring a lot about getting sick people back on their feet again, yet we seem to put very little effort into staying healthy.”

What we learn in his book is not so much surprising but very solid knowledge about factors really influencing human lifespan – not just that of fruit flies or lab mice. We should take care of our blood pressure and our weight. Our intake of carbo­hydrates should be reduced, while fats and oils are not the problem. We should eat more omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids rather than the omega-6 ones – meaning: more fish and nuts. Taking omega-3 capsules is fine but other food supplements, like vitamin pills, are mostly useless or even harmful.

The benefits of staying mentally active until old age and avoiding chronic stress go without saying. But Cortvriendt takes it further and also discusses esoteric topics like the polypill, a cocktail of drugs against cardiovascular diseases, taken preventatively at low doses. The verdict: “The polypill is promising, but much clinical research needs to be done to determine the optimal composition and dosage and the ratio of risks and benefits.”

The individual chapters are well researched, give the necessary biochemical background and come to the point quickly. Living a Century or More is a good handbook to start any investigation into the benefits of different lifestyle choices – a handy signpost in the midst of hyped media reports and bogus practical guides, filling the shelves of your local bookshop.

Why change your life?

Unfortunately, Cortvriendt omits to give solid indications of effect sizes. Is it possible to compensate for meat-guzzling eating habits with a fish oil pill each day? Should one start by buying vegetables or run for an hour a day? Sure, Cortvriendt is right when he says, “The proposed lifestyle changes will only bring about the desired positive differences, if these do indeed become part of your daily routine as well, so that you are able to maintain them throughout your life.”

But where is the happiness in all this? Where is the pleasure of eating lots of sugary cakes, of getting drunk with your friends on a Friday night and of watching soaps for hours on TV? Somehow, most people prefer to live in the stressful and buzzing city centres not in the calm and slow blue zones of this world. The gap between what we know will make us healthy and what gives us pleasure needs much more exploration than Cortvriendt can offer. Nevertheless, Living a Century or More is a useful factual guide for the interested non-nutritionists and non-gerontologists.

Letzte Änderungen: 23.11.2015