Posted by: drwbortz | August 24, 2010

Aging is a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Sometimes, as an intitial assessment of a person, I ask, “Who you think you are going to be when you are 80, or 90 or 100?”  The common answer, “That’s not a reasonable question, because I don’t think I’ll still be here at those ages, or maybe I might still be here, but I’ll probably be in a forlorn nursing home with an oxygen tube in my nostril, while endlessly contemplating the Styrofoam squares in the ceiling.”

I reply, “If you say you’re going to be dead or in a nursing home when you are old, you will be,” because aging is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Every day, in every way you’re acting or reacting or not acting in such ways as to guarantee the accuracy of your prediction

Norman Cousins, the great literary humanist, proclaimed the many health benefits of optimism and commented, “Nobody is smart enough to be a pessimist.”  There is absolutely no question that depression is hazardous to your health, and the answer to depression is not pills, but a major attitude adjustment.

Martin Seligman has written extensively on the hopeless helpless syndrome.

When you give up on life, life gives up on you. But who you will be at 90 has other dimensions. Ben Levine, who used to be one of our outstanding medical residents at Stanford University, is now the director of the important Dallas Bed Rest Study. In it, healthy volunteers are recruited for a study protocol in which they are put to bed while a variety of measurements are carried out. The group’s conclusion: 2 weeks of bed rest is biologically equivalent to 30-years-worth of aging.

The Native Americans used to think that it was dishonorable to die in bed.  Now we know why.

All of us are our own forecasters in one way or another, guided by experience. One of our principal guides is the health history of our parents and grandparents, and the projection of their stories onto our own future trajectory. For me, my 4 grandparents died in their 60s and 70s of diabetes, cancer and pneumonia.  This was pretty much expected of them in the 1930s; my dad died at 74, like his parents. And I’m still mad at him for exiting so early. But Mother lived to 95, widowed for 22 years, the last survivor of 12 children.  She died healthy, with no medicines or symptoms. Mother was confused about being so old. She didn’t know how to act her age, but who does at 95?

Mother lived to be 95 not because her parents were long-lived; they weren’t. And she certainly did not live that long because of health advisories from her physician husband and physician son, because she perversely disregarded anything we ever said to her. Mother lived to 95 because he was designed to live till 95 and beyond.  She fulfilled most of her biologic pedigree.

One of mother’s assets was her vanity. She insisted on wearing shoes with a small heel, which made her tottery and subject to falls, of which she had several.  But she disregarded any comments that were made about these.  And she kept falling.

I know that she didn’t plan to live to 95, but more and more of us are reaching that age and beyond, and more of us will — as the years accumulate.  Just like the four-minute mile, and climbing Mount Everest, once it is done, it becomes progressively easier for the rest of us who seek to up-regulate our expectations and our prophecies

That’s why I wrote the book “Dare to be 100,” I claimed that achieving this new reality depended essentially on 2 prerequisites, guts and smarts  — the  smarts to recognize that 100 is really our birthright, and the guts to have the courage to get of bed each morning and say YES! to life.

Such is the exhortation of the dawn.


  1. What a POWERFUL and inspiring message Dr Bortz. You lead the way toward an enlightened approach to living long and well!

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