The Web      Powered by
powered by Yahoo!


Return to Transcripts main page


Weekend House Call

Aired November 9, 2003 - 08:30   ET


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning and welcome to WEEKEND HOUSE CALL. We're talking today, about how can you live to be 100 and healthy. In our quest for the Fountain of Youth we came across some amazing examples of what people to do to keep their minds and bodies fit as they age.

COHEN (voice-over): Charlotte Chipman is 101 years old and can out aerobicize, out socialize, out yogaize people many decades younger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Isn't she something?

COHEN: She lifts weights better than many of people in her senior citizen's aerobics class, lives on her own without help, travels across the country for family events and drove a car until age 98. Because of failing eyesight she doesn't anymore. Now her 94- year-old niece drives her around.

(on camera): Everyone's looking for Fountain of Youth and it's right here.


COHEN: I'm sitting next to it.

CHIPMAN: That's right.

COHEN (voice-over): Scientists are learning that much of longevity is in the genes, something I'm grateful for, since Charlotte Chipman is my great, great aunt and Sarah Weintraub my grandmother.

Dr. Thomas Perls of Boston University runs the New England Centenarian Study.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Inhale the shoulders up...

COHEN: He's looking for answers in the genes and personality traits of people around 100 years old. My aunt Charlotte is one of his study subjects.

CHIPMAN: If there's a wedding or bar mitzvah, a birth, all they have to do is invite me. Sometimes I go even if I'm not invited.

DR. THOMAS PERLS, BOSTON UNIVERSITY: They have a very positive outlook on life. Their cup is always half full, not half empty. I've so very rarely come across a curmudgeonly centenarian.

COHEN: Rubin Landau, another of Dr. Perls' study subjects, turns 100 next month, at age 99 he's the oldest practicing lawyer in Massachusetts, and possibly the country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a new article in there you wanted me to read about finances.

COHEN (on camera): How many hours a day do you usually work?


COHEN: And, do you enjoy it?

LANDAU: I love it.

COHEN (voice-over): When Mr. Landau isn't working, he exercises his brain by reading a lot.

PERLS: As long as they stay cognitively intact they're virtually immortal. But, once something happens to the brain that's when the clock really starts ticking, in my book.


COHEN: The U.S. population is indeed aging. There are now about 50,000 people over the age of 100. By the year 2030, there will be 70 million Americans over the age of 65. This has led more and more research on how to prevent the effects of aging. Some things have already become clear, like lifestyle counts. The National Institute on Aging recommends eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly and stopping smoking. Some other tips: Watch how much alcohol you drink, stay connected with family and friends and keep a positive attitude in life, just like the people who we met in our story. Follow these steps and experts say you'll live a longer, healthier life.

I'm sure you've got lots of questions, so give us a call at 800- 807-2620 or you can e-mail us at We've got with us today, Dr. Thomas Perls, who is going to help answer our questions about living to be 100. He, himself, is 110.

Right, Dr. Perls? Is that right?


PERLS: That's right. Well, a little younger, but not much.

COHEN: But, he's looks great. He's the coauthor...

PERLS: Oh, thanks Elizabeth.

COHEN: He's the coauthor of the book "Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age." He specializes in geriatrics at the Boston University Medical and, as you saw in our story, he also heads up the New England Centenarian Study. Thanks for joining us Dr. Perls. COHEN: Let's get...

PERLS: Pleasure.

COHEN: This right out of the way, right now, because I'm sure you get asked this all of the time. I know asked you, is there a Fountain of Youth?

PERLS: The quick answer is no. I think that there's lots of -- this has been going on obviously, for millennia that there's been promises of immortality or living for a very, very long time. I think more so, it's probably a fountain of aging well. It sounds a little bit like splitting hairs, but I think one is much more realistic than the other, and if we can learn how to get people into significantly older age, their mid to late 80s, which I think is possible for most of us, and much of that in good health, I think that's the way to go and I think there's some really good answers out there for people on how to do that.

COHEN: Great, well we have a question from Debbie in Arkansas.

Debbie, welcome to WEEKEND HOUSE CALL, and go ahead with your question.

DEBBIE, ARKANSAS: Yes, I was wondering if you have grandparents on both sides of your mother and father's family that lived to be very old age and then also your parents lived to be in their 80s, what chances of your -- is it a hereditary thing of longevity, and if they stay youthful into their 80s, I just wondered what role that plays for the offspring.

PERLS: Sure. Thanks for the question, Debbie. Certainly, if both sides of the family have that kind of longevity, that's really good news. We have quite a bit of data, now showing that at least extreme old age runs very strongly in families, brothers of centenarians have about a 18 times greater chance of getting to that age, sisters have about eight-and-a-half times greater chance. So, there's some real strong stuff running in the families. We don't know yet, the pattern, if it matters if it's your mother's family or your father's family. We have a lot of data that we're going through now, to try and answering that question. That isn't -- sorry?

COHEN: No. Dr. Perls, I was wondering, could you give us a ballpark percentage, what percent of living to 100 is your genes and what percent is how you live your life?

PERLS: A large chunk of it probably is genetic. To get to 100, but I think the vast majority of us have been dealt these wonderful cards. We have the genes that based upon twin studies, studies of populations that have average life expectancies in the late 80s, that much of this is in our hands, about 70 percent of how well we age, our ability to reach this fountain of aging well is very much related to our behaviors. So, I'm sure we'll be talking about the different factors that I think are really important to getting to that age, but most of us shouldn't despair that a relatively few of us might have these genetic booster rockets to get us to 100, when I think we can get to at least 15 years less of that, most of it in very good health.

COHEN: Well, we just -- we were talking about living well. So, here's a question, can eating less actually help you live longer? We'll talk to our doctor about cutting calories in the hopes to live a more active life. Does it work? Give us a call with your questions at 1-800-807-2620 or e-mail us at

Plus, are you already thinking about the holidays and stressing out? We're going to be talking about holiday stress in a couple of weeks, so e-mail now with those questions, that's again, We'll be right back.


COHEN: From watching what you eat to taking vitamins, it seems like everyone is searching for the magic pill to stay young. There are lots of products out there claiming to help keep you looking younger longer. Some people claim that anti-oxidants are the answer since, as we age, free radicals may buildup and damage our cells. Others say DHEA is the way to go. It's a hormone that's been said to improve energy and increase muscle mass. Similar things are being said about HGH, which is Human Growth Hormone. People who pay for these shots hope to slow their body's aging process. Last but not least, there are dietary supplements. Billions are spent every year by people hoping for more energy, better memory, and even a longer life. So, are any of these options good for helping you live longer?

We've got with us Dr. Thomas Perls, he's a geriatrician who can help us with some of these questions.

Dr. Perls, you study people who live to 100 and beyond. Do they tend to take any particular drug or supplements?

PERLS: No. I have a feeling there isn't that much we can learn from the centenarians in terms how to live to a very old age the way they do, because they get away with some things that the rest of us shouldn't be doing. There's things that they don't do and I think it's by virtue of some pretty spectacular genes. On the other hand, there's some personality traits, there's some other things that they do that I think we do learn from and then there's their kids who are also getting to age very, very well.

COHEN: So, all of those supplements that we mentioned and the drugs, those don't appear to be the answer necessarily?

PERLS: You know, I think there are a lot of studies, not of centenarians, but of other groups that so show that there are some things that probably do help the rest of us.

COHEN: All right, well we've gotten many e-mails on these questions.


COHEN: Chad in California wants to know: "I have a number of friends who are taking HGH injections and looking and feeling younger. They're doing blood work every three months and so far the results are excellent. Can you give me some more information about Human Growth Hormone?"

Human Growth Hormone, is interesting, Dr. Perls, because sometimes it's given to children who are very short to help them grow. But, when you give to older people, does it help them stay younger?

PERLS: That's right, and there's an indication in older people who have a problem with their pituitary gland, and that's a very rare endocrinological disorder. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists are vehemently against the use of Human Growth Hormone for this anti-aging industry's cure to aging. There's a lot of side effects. There are anecdotes, as Chad had mentioned.

You know, there are anecdotes of individuals who feel fine, they've been taking it for a few months, and may even take it for a few years, but the long-term side effects have been shown to be really quite significant ranging from swelling and stiffness in your joints to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, so high blood pressure, to heart failure, and a very large number of people, totally unacceptability, have diabetes from this therapy. So, I would totally shy away from it. You know, it's not a matter of taking it for a few years. The anti- aging industry wants you to live to 150 and have the virility of a 20- year-old. That's what they claim with this stuff, and you'd have to take it for years and it's very inex -- very expensive, ranging from 10 to 20,000 a year.


PERLS: So, I would definitely look for other ways of doing this.

COHEN: All right. Well, Vince from New York has a question about one of those other ways. He says he's read that: "calorie restriction diets can significantly increase the lifespan of certain mammals. Is this true for humans?"

So again, we're talking about diets where you eat much less food than most of us eat. Can that prolong your life and keep you healthier?

PERLS: Yes, the studies in mice and rats and primates are showing they do slow down aging, and they do slow down or even decrease your risk for age-related diseases in those organisms, and it's really the only thing we know of that, slows down the rate of aging so far and people are trying to find out the mechanisms of that to maybe even produce drugs to try and imitate that. But, to get the population of humans, we don't know for sure this happens in humans, but to get them to reduce their calories by 30 percent like that, over a long period of time is nearly impossible to get people to do. So, we have to look at other diets. The whole thing about diets is, you have to set yourself up with a diet that's going to be successful for you. If it doesn't work you, you're going to stop it and people go up and down on their weights and their diets all the time, because they don't come up with a plan that is born to be successful for them.

COHEN: We have a phone call right now, from Donald in Virginia. Donald, welcome to WEEKEND HOUSE CALL, and go ahead with your question.

DONALD, VIRGINIA: Good morning, and on the same subject of diets, the Atkins diet, very successful.


DONALD: We've lost ten pounds, so far and we're aiming for another ten pounds, and the question is: How far should we take our weight down? It appears we can take it forever, so where should we stop to obtain maximum, optimum health?

PERLS: Well, good for you, Donald, and I would imagine we, as your partner as well, so that's fantastic. The Atkins diet is this very low carbohydrate diet. And as we get older -- you know, I think after age 30 something clicked in my body, that the second I started eating carbohydrates it went right into my waist and it's because our pancreas produces insulin, in reaction to the carbohydrate, which is what makes our fat, so we try to eat things other than carbohydrates, so we aren't producing that insulin, as much. You will find, as time goes on, you'll hit a plateau after which you just can't really go much lower, based on that diet. Combining that with some strength training exercise will help you go a little bit lower than that, but your body will basically tell you that's where I am and that's as far as I can go. Achieving a lean body mass is really the goal, because the fat that we accumulate as we get older is not an inactive tissue, it secretes all kinds of inflammatory substances that go right into feeding into cardiovascular disease. So, it really is good what you're doing to try and reduce the fat, but you will plateau naturally at a particular weight and that's probably where you'll be.

COHEN: Great, so the message here is, listen to your body. We're going to be talking about something else you should listen to your body about that, and that is stress. Many people are stressed today, including stressed out about getting old. Next, is all that stress cutting your life shorter? And, what about faith? Does it play a role in living a long life? We'll talk about it after the break. But first, let's check our "Daily Dose Health Quiz."

We want to know: Who is the longest living person on record and how long did he or she live? The answer when we come back. Stay with us.


COHEN: Checking the "Daily Dose Health Quiz" we asked: Who is the longest living person on record and how long did he or she live? The answer is Jeanne Calment, who died at the age of 122 that was in August of 1997.

Welcome back to WEEKEND HOUSE CALL. We're talking about the hard to find Fountain of Youth. With us here today, Dr. Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study.

Dr. Perls, we've been getting lots and lots of e-mails on this topic.

PERLS: That's good.

COHEN: Let's go to Mike from Texas who wants to know: "Is there any evidence that worry and stress can cause or worsen physical problems and shorten one's lifespan?"

What do you think, Dr. Perls?

PERLS: I think there's a lot of data, there's a great place called the Mind/Body Institute out of Beth Israel Hospital, here at Harvard, and they show that stress just feeds right into a lot of our cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, maybe even Alzheimer's disease. And, the centenarians interestingly they have a personality trait where they score low in one feature, that means that they seem to be able to manage their stress very well, isn't so much how much stress you have in your life, that you manage it well. Now, some people have the personality that's conducive to that. They're funny, they're laid back, they don't dwell on things, they seem to be able to let go. People can do other things, they can do yoga, they can do exercise, they can breathe right. There are a whole number of strategies. Some people believe that faith and religion play in very well to people's ability to manage stress better. So, I think those strategies are very important. We see it from the centenarians all the time.

COHEN: I remember you said something to me that I'll never forget when I met you in Boston a couple of weeks ago, and you said that centenarians just seem to be able to let things go. They don't harbor grudges perhaps, as much as the rest of us.

PERLS: Well, they've got 100 years of experience of how to navigate the obstacles of life, and I think that they do it incredibly well.

COHEN: That's great. Well have a similar question here, this one is from Tim in North Carolina who wants to know: "Does faith or spirituality play a role in longevity?"

You talked a little bit about that. Is it -- did folks who live long lives, do they tend to be religious people, tend to be church- goers or do they -- are they maybe more spiritual in a more general kind of way?

PERLS: Surprisingly they're all Buddhist. No, I'm just kidding. They -- but it's true. I think many of them feel that their faith is extremely important to them. I do believe that it helps them navigate the daily stresses of life. There are probably all kinds of other issues regarding to building social networks and a whole number of other things that make this an advantage for them. Also, they -- many of them feel that having a cause that gets them up in the morning is extremely important, that keeps them cognitively active and enriched and so on and I would imagine faith has a part to do with that, as well.

COHEN: You know, I thought it was interesting when I met Ruben Landau, the man in our story who's going to be 100 in a month. When he was 60, we a heart attack, which you might think is -- you know, bad news, he's going to end his life early. But, he said it was that heart attack that taught him that he needed to deal with stress better. And that was...

PERLS: A really nice wakeup call for him, and it is interesting that we have a number of centenarians about 40 percent who, like Mr. Landau, have had a significant illness for quite a long period of time, in this his case 40 years, that would have otherwise been pretty lethal to other people, and surely, he must have some kind of means of adapting to that, dealing with it, that allowed him to get to extreme old age like he did in good health, compared to other people.

COHEN: Well, when we come back, we'll show you where to get more information on centenarians and tips to living healthier longer.

But first, here's a look at some of this week's medical headlines:


COHEN (voice-over): A new study shows large particles of good cholesterol may help fight coronary artery diseases. Doctors injected at risk patients with a synthetic version of oversized HDL particles. Dr. Steven Nissan, the study's coordinator, says the treatment works like Drano for the coronary arteries. Researchers say government approval for the treatment is years way.

Also, a new recommendation in the "Journal of Pediatrics" says Ipecac is out for treating childhood poisoning. The report suggests parents should call their local poison center hotline for advice instead of using Ipecac syrup or activated charcoal.


COHEN: You got check out this Web site:, that's the site for Boston University and once you're there, do a search on "centenarian" and you'll find the new England Centenarian Study where you can find more on the secrets to living to 100 and beyond.

You can also go to for a life expectancy calculator so you can figure out how your lifestyle is affecting your age.

Welcome back to WEEKEND HOUSE CALL, we've been talking with Dr. Thomas Perls, ahead of the New England Centenarian Study.

Dr. Perls, I have one last question for you. Do you have any specific exercise advice for living a long, healthy life?

PERLS: As we get older, certainly strength training, I think, becomes more important. Building the muscle, and not just exercising your muscles, but also exercising your brain. Doing new things that are novel and complex, that get connections going that weren't there before, is also going to be very important as we get older. So, body and brain building, that's the way to go. Keep your brain young, there you go. I know that's what my grandmother and my great- great aunt do, so that's very important.

PERLS: Very important.

COHEN: Well, we're out of time for today. Make sure to watch tonight's "CNN Presents." You can learn more about -- you can learn more about cheating Father Time and "The Pursuit of the Fountain of Youth," that's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific, here on CNN.

And tune in next Saturday when we take a look at new heart treatments. That's next weekend at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time.

I'm Elizabeth Cohen. CNN SUNDAY MORNING continues right now.


International Edition
CNN TV CNN International Headline News Transcripts Advertise With Us About Us
   The Web     
Powered by
© 2005 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.
 Premium content icon Denotes premium content.
Add RSS headlines.