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I am a British-born, naturalized American, living in California. Based in Los Angeles, I work as a correspondent for BBC television, radio and websites. This blog is mostly dedicated to my interest in the science of human longevity - food, fasting, exercise and long-term health. All views expressed reflect my personal experiences. I advise anyone considering adopting a new diet or fitness regime first to consult with their doctor. Links on this site are to my personal portfolio of audio, video and text. Copyright of broadcast works remain with the BBC. Thanks for the visit!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Why put a limit on life?

In a recent essay in The Atlantic the prominent and respected health strategist Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel spelled out his wish to die at the age of 75. 

"I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive. For many reasons, 75 is a pretty good age to aim to stop," wrote Emanuel, who helped develop President Obama's health care reform law and is the director of the Clinical Bioethics Department at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.  

I struggle to understand why anyone would want to exit this world at such a relatively young age.  Modern science, coupled with a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that promote a long healthy life make it eminently possible to live far longer than the accepted norm. And even by conservative standards, 75 is below the age that most of us will achieve.  Today the average American can expect to make it to 79, although the 'average American' (or Brit for that matter) is not a glowing example of a lifestyle designed to promote long life. 

For me, living a long and as healthy-as-possible a life is the holy grail. My goal is to delay the inevitable fade to black for as long as possible.  I get Emanuel's argument that living with infirmity, lengthening the dying process and becoming a burden on society is not an attractive option, but I am not about to accept that it is inevitable.   One-time killer diseases and many life-threatening medical conditions are now curable or treatable. A healthy lifestyle - plenty of physical activity and a finely tuned diet - will promote good health and longevity. Around the world, scientists are making astonishing progress in understanding the mechanists at work in promoting better health. 

As a productive 75+ year old my plan is - yes, to enjoy life - to hopefully do some of my best work and also give back. For every day that I wake up and smell the coffee, embrace the sun's rays and breath fresh air, I want to engage and inspire others to make our world a better place.  Lofty yes - but this lifetime is the only chance I'll get. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Google's Calico moves forward


http://www.calicolabs.com
The unexpected, but exciting announcement last year that Google is getting into the human longevity business has move a step forward. So far, few details about the tech giant's Calico (California Life Company) venture have been revealed.  But now the company has a website which profiles some of its key appointees. They include some of the world's leading researchers in the fields of cell biology and human longevity. I am particularly excited to see that Cynthia Kenyon, the pioneering molecular biologist, is part of the team. Her work has done much to unravel the mysteries of aging - specifically that it is part of a complex, genetically controlled process. here's her inspiring TED Talk.



Other members of the Calico teams bring a wealth of experience to the project. The challenge for Calico over the coming months and years will be to embrace the global scientific community, in the fields of human longevity and gerontology, to forge partnerships and initiate new studies. I wish them well.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Periodic fasting #4 (2014)

At the beginning of this year I decided to follow a periodic fasting regime and a mostly plant based diet for at least the next 12 months.  This is the background

Day 1: Sunday July 27, 2014
This is my 4th fast this year - each one, lasting 5-days, being roughly two months apart. Today was Day 1 and as they go, it was pretty easy. It is not a total fast, so getting by on approximately 1100 calories presents no huge hardship.  Things get a more interesting from tomorrow when I will eat no more than 600 cals per day.   I'll blog on how it goes over the week, but I expect it to be reasonably easy - some mental highs, some tired evenings and a few hunger pangs, but that's about all. I'll probably lose about 6-9lbs in weight.   I'll also share some fascinating data, generated through my blood-work, which suggests I am in far better shape now than six months ago.

Day 2: Monday July 28, 2014

After a reasonably good night's sleep, the morning started well with a familiar feeling of mental alertness - more than usual - brought on by the fast. Had productive few hours in the office, after an energy bar breakfast and black coffee.  Ideally I should be doing this without the coffee - to eliminate as many external factors as possible - but I'm not there yet.  It gives me the energy I'm deprived in food - albeit caffein and not sugar. Max two cups of caffeinated coffee per day, though, during the fast period.

Usual Monday gym session at noon.  Exercise is something else I should be reducing during this period.  I take extreme care and cut back on weights. That said, I felt pretty strong today. It's only 1.5 days on a reduced diet.  A trend I've noticed following previous fasts is that while I lose skeletal muscle mass during the fast, I gain it back plus an extra pound or so, very quickly. And feel stronger.   More research is needed to understand the mechanisms at work, but it may be linked to a 'rebooting' effect of the diet, whereby the body gets rid of old and damaged cells in preparation for new growth when a normal eating pattern is resumed.
In a separate clinical trial, a similar response has been observed in relation to the immune system, as reported here.

Feeling tired by dinner time and a moderate headache.  I thought I skipped the headache phase, but not so.  Its a sign I'm into ketosis and burning fat.  Resolved by heading to bed early

Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system

Day 3: Tuesday July 29, 2014

Its fast hump day. Half way there and doing fine so far. A productive day in the office with a live one-hour radio show at 6PM. That's around the time my energy levels usually nosedive, so I had part of my evening meal - the soup - early, for en energy boost.  plus half a cup of black coffee. It seemed to work.  

Dr Valter Longo, the USC scientist behind this diet regime, joined me for an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live.  


I struggled to eat remainder of today's food allocation. The kale chips are less and less appealing and by this stage in the fast I really have little appetite anyway. Another early night.

Day 4: Wednesday July 30, 2014

Probably at my best this morning - despite what felt like a horrible night's sleep. Typically must have been sleeping more than I thought as I tossed and turned. Had been debating whether to go to the gym today but felt good and went for it.  Turned out to a great session with heavy weight and to my huge surprise personal best stats with chin ups - somehow found energy from nowhere.  Three sets - 16/13/11 reps which is more than I can usually manage.

Afternoon and evening brought sluggishness again and a mild headache. Again, couldn't eat all the prescribed food (despite it being minuscule in portions).  Gleaned a bit of energy from eating a third of a spare energy bar, which is allowed as part of the regime. Another early night.

Day 5: Thursday July 31, 2014

Despite this week being relatively easy going it is alway good to get to Day 5.  A busy work day ahead so plenty to distract me, which is always good when fasting.

Fasting is not fun, for the most part, but far better than many of the alternatives. If the health benefits pan out, I'd settle for periodic fasting anytime, rather than the misery of chronic disease. Today was busy and probably the best day of this 5-day period. In line with previous fast, I found that my aversion to the food increased with every day.  I didn't feel hungry or that desperate to eat anything. I skipped the kale chips in the evening and submitted with 2/3 of the energy bar.  Unusually I did not feel tired in the evening and kept working until 10PM. Could have gone on further but thought it was wise to go to bed. Could not sleep for ages though - my mind was too wires. I believe there's science to explain this and I'll come back to it.

Fast #4 this year done.

My weight dropped by almost 9 lbs. The really interesting stats will be over the next few days when I monitor my recovery - speed of muscle re-growth especially.

My goal over the next 55 days or so is to maintain weight under or about 170, which feel like optimum weight for me. This will be down through, hopefully, continued skeletal muscle mass growth and slowly declining body fat.  Both appear to promoted through the fast.

Always remember, this is not primarily about weight loss - it is about the beneficial longer term effects on my body.  But weight control is a positive by-product, and I'll take that.

Now, let's eat!

--------------------------
Background notes:
Only food provided by University of Southern California scientists, via L-Nutra, a spin off company from USC, are consumed during the 5-day fast. They are not, currently, available for sale.
Earlier BBC stories: 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Olympic swimming coach Teri McKeever

Monday, May 12, 2014

Man Utd coach Phil Neville adopts a plant-based diet

Does a plant-based diet affect athletic performance? Here's an interesting take from one of the world's top football coaches.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"Age is just a number"

The inspirational story of a nonagenarian athlete. I see age 70+ swimmers, runners and cyclists all the time - but Olga Kotelko is still breaking records at 95.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Longest separated twins reunited at 78

A fascinating story: Fraternal twins, separated as babies but reunited at the age of 78. I met both Ann and Elizabeth and witnessed their emotional reunion. What will be even more interesting is the clinical study in which they have both agreed to take part. Researchers at the University of California plan to analyze their lives - lifestyle, diet, social experiences and much more - along with their current state of physical and mental health. The results could provide a fascinating insight into the key factors influencing their level of wellbeing as well as the aging process.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Immortalists: "There's no glory in dying"

It is a subject that has fascinated, confused and frustrated generations of scientists. The aging process and man's desire to slow down or even turn back the biological clock is complex and nuanced. But inch by inch - or cell by cell - researchers are beginning to piece together the mechanisms at work when we get old and ultimately die. That elusive dream of eternal life remains a lofty goal and inconceivable to most scholars of gerontology.   But there are a few - arguably eccentric souls - who believe that we are on the verge of discovering the secret to never-ending life.

I do not belong to that exclusive club. But I do have an insatiable desire to learn more about the science behind aging.  More specifically I believe that there is much we can do now to extend our healthy years. I was therefore keen to see the new documentary, The Immortalists.  

According to the promotional blurb, the film is:

The story of two eccentric scientists struggling to create eternal youth with medical breakthroughs in a world they call “blind to the tragedy of old age." Bill Andrews is a lab biologist and famed long-distance runner racing against the ultimate clock. Aubrey de Grey is a genius theoretical biologist who conducts his research with a beer in hand. They differ in style and substance, but are united in their common crusade: cure aging or die trying. They publicly brawl with the old guard of biology who argue that curing aging is neither possible nor desirable. As Andrews and de Grey battle their own aging and suffer the losses of loved ones, their journeys toward life without end ultimately become personal.



The documentary treads a fine line between the extreme and unconventional personal lives of the featured scientists - and their professional work. 

Aubrey de Grey is a well known and controversial figure in the longevity field.  He is best known for claiming that the first person to reach 1000 is alive today.

His passion for his work is undeniable although his unconventional lifestyle - involving a wife, girlfriends, a penchant for nudity and beer-swilling - somewhat overshadows de Gray's academic and scientific standing. The documentary follows the British scientist in both worlds and manages not to sensationalize de Gray's lifestyle choices. It also features strong and respected opposing voices to the scientist's more extreme claims about the potential for never-ending life. It includes a segment covering an Oxford University debate on the question of defeating aging completely.  de Gray is pitted against Prof. Colin Blakemore, the distinguished British neuroscientist and former head of the UK's Medical Research Council. 

"What Aubrey de Gray is offering you is snakeoil - and dangerous snake oil," Blakemore tells the audience.

Without revealing the outcome to some of the documentary's character-driven vignettes, the film is entertaining but it also takes the science seriously.  This is an extremely difficult topic - defying the aging process involves a myriad of biological processes and is not be easily simplified for a TV or theater audience. 

It left me wanting to know more about the daily lives of the central characters. Both extremists,  dedicated to their cause, I was curious to hear more detail about their personal regimes.  Such different approaches - could they both be right? 

The film focusses, for much of the time, on the science of telomere lifespan. Increasingly acknowledged as a key factor in the aging process, but what about diet and exercise?  We learned much about Bill Andrews' extreme endurance achievements, but it was unclear whether they were helping or hindering his quest for eternal life. 

I enjoyed the film because it was provocative and inspiring - and the cinematography was superb.

The Immortalists, directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg, premiered at the SXSW festival in Austin Texas, on March 9th, 2014.   

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Live Long, Die Short: The case for compression of morbidity

Interview with Dr Roger Landry, a preventative medicine physician and the president of Masterpiece Living, a group that is committed to the vision of people maximizing their potential and aging successfully.

Why do I care about trying to understand the aging process?
  
Specifically, I am sometimes asked, why do I focus so much on living a long life?  I would say, a long, healthy life. The answer, to me, is obvious. 

First, the alternative does not sound like fun. 

Second, the global benefits of having a fit, elderly population are almost immeasurable - both fiscally and practically. A healthy generation of baby boomers would spend less on health care, contribute to society and fulfill personal goals that their parents could only dream of. 

Which brings me to my third reason to live long and healthy.  I have a very long bucket list. I will never run out of things to do.

I am always curious to hear how other, like-minded, aging enthusiasts respond to the same question. When I met Dr Roger Landry recently, he gave me this answer.


"I have many people say, 'I don’t want to live to be 100', but it is under the mistaken presumption that that it will involve a significant decline, impairment, pain, a burden to their families - and yet if I ask them in their 50’s if they’ve had enough life, no one ever answers ‘yes, I’ve had enough life.' 

"We have the capability, to describe it best as an analogy, to live with the performance capabilities that we have say in our 40’s or 50’s or low 60’s for much much longer.  It’s a matter or throwing away potential capital that you have, it’s throwing away money you’ve saved and so it makes no sense to me. 

"Perhaps those who plan societies may say 'what are we going to do with a world population that’s that large' but that’s a little beyond my pay grade.  I’m about the quality of life of those who are living and having them reach their potential and contribute back to society as well as enjoyment of life."

I agree and would add - returning to the bucket list - that I aspire to get to 90 or 100+ and to travel to those countries that I've always wanted to visit because I am still physically able.  Or, for those with children, wouldn't it be wonderful to reach a great age and still be able to crouch down on the floor (probably with your great grandchildren) and play - and then stand up without getting someone to haul you back into the rocking chair. 


Dr Landry has written a fascinating book, Live LongDie Short: A Guide for Authentic Health and Successful Aging. A The book's title is inspired by a public health term, compression of morbidity, about which I have written in the past.  

As Dr Landry explains: 

"Morbidity is being sick and we like to compress the time that someone is sick rather than to have a long decade, two decade, three decade-long period of decline that is not only detracts from the quality of life, but is also very expensive as a nation, as well as an individual."

Listen to the full interview:

Dr. Landy was a flight surgeon in the Air Force for over 22 years.  He retired as a highly decorated full Colonel and Chief flight surgeon at the air force surgeon general’s office in Washington DC after duty on five continents. He was medically involved in a number of significant world events including: Vietnam, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the Beirut bombing of the Marine barracks, the first seven shuttle launches, and the first manned balloon crossing of the pacific.

Monday, March 10, 2014

BBC Presents: What If We Could Stay Young Forever?

Today I'll be presenting a SXSW version of the BBC documentary, What if we could stay young Forever. If you're in town for the interactive conference, I'd love you to come along, if you can. I'm also curious to know how much you care about the aging process and whether you think companies like Google, through their new startup, Calico, can do anything to extend the human life span?


Monday March 9th: 3.30PM

Hilton Austin Downtown

Salon G


500 E 4th St


SXSW: "BBC's Peter Bowes will tell the story of his 2-year quest for a healthier, longer life. While walking at a modified treadmill podium, to make a not-so-subtle point about how sitting is killing us, Peter will relay his experiences as the subject of a clinical trial, testing an extreme diet intervention.  Intrigued by the growing business of life extension and bombarded with adverts promising a longer, healthier life, Peter set out to sort facts from fiction in the world of human longevity. He met the 74 year old Las Vegas doctor, appropriately named Dr Life, who injects himself with testosterone to maintain the physique of a man half his age. He discovered the extreme dieters, who practice caloric restriction as a way to slow down the body clock. He tried intense exercise and even enrolled in a university clinical trial as human guinea pig. The study is testing a theory that may help people grow old without ever suffering from the debilitating diseases that plague the elderly."