Thursday, Feb. 11, 2010

Health Checkup

In Greek Mythology, Zeus gave Tithonus immortality. That sounds pretty darn good. But there was a catch. Tithonus got eternal life — but not eternal youth. He lived so long and became so frail that he begged Zeus to take back his gift. In this issue — our first of six Health Checkups this year — we don't promise you immortality (which, as Zeus showed, might turn out to be a mixed blessing), but we do focus on the science of longevity and explain how you can live both longer and better. Five more times this year — in April, June, August, November and December — we will be back with Health Checkups on such topics as women's health and diet and nutrition.

Most of us would like to live as long as possible, especially if we can stay as fit as Onie Ponder, who at 111 may have been the oldest person to cast a vote in the 2008 presidential election. Here's the good news: more of us will be able to do just that. If human life expectancy continues to increase at its current rate, half the children born in the developed world today will be around to celebrate their 100th birthday.

For the first piece in our health package, Alice Park spent a delightful afternoon with the Hurlburt family in Massachusetts — eight surviving siblings ages 79 to 96 — who are part of the Long Life Family Study. As the name suggests, the study recruits those fortunate enough to have been born into families in which longevity seems to be a given. Scientists are trying to determine what genetic, environmental and behavioral factors set those families apart from the rest of us.

Bryan Walsh explores the link between caloric restriction and longevity. As long ago as 1935, scientists noticed that rats with a severely calorie-restricted diet lived twice as long as normal rodents. Recent studies found a similar, if more muted, effect in humans. The question is, Would you be willing to forgo pizza and ice cream for 10 extra years of life? Would that make you live longer or just make you feel as if you're living longer? Jeffrey Kluger looks at the unexpected downsides for the U.S. if everyone were to live to 100. Among the consequences: exploding Medicare and Social Security costs, as well as enlarged carbon and garbage footprints. Laura Blue surveys the labs for the latest longevity research, and Lon Tweeten and Andréa Ford provide a fascinating graphic that looks at longevity around the world. The entire package was smartly put together and edited by Jeffrey Kluger and Sora Song, while Cindy Hoffman produced the eye-catching design.

I'm also delighted to tell you that we will be partnering with the man I think of as America's Doctor, Mehmet Oz — surgeon, best-selling author and host of the nationally syndicated Dr. Oz Show — who will be writing the end page for all our Health Checkups. In each case, Dr. Oz will explain in his distinctive conversational style how you can use the science we are reporting on to improve your health. Make sure to watch the show too.

Finally, a note about the cover. We thought it would be fun to shoot three generations of women from the same family to show the aging process. For our arresting cover image, our director of photography, Kira Pollack, enlisted a friend of hers and her lovely mother and daughter. Beauty knows no age. Here's to a healthy 2010.