December 17th, 2009
11:00 AM ET

50on50: Birthday cake at 50 or life until 100? Must I choose, Dr. Gupta?


Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I believe the sequence of events I’m about to recount happened for a reason. It started with a surprise birthday cake from my CNN friends and colleagues for my 50th. I ate a piece. Then I started reading the book I ordered this week from Amazon.com – Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Chasing Life.” I immediately turned to the chapter entitled “Living to 100.” I felt like I started reading a few bites too late.

Living to 100

Dr. Gupta was trying to get to the bottom of why there’s a larger percentage of the 100+ year-old demo living on the Japanese islands of Okinawa than anywhere else on earth. It’s not genetic, reports Dr. Gupta. Low calorie diets are partly responsible for Okinawan longevity.

At that very moment, I was interrupted by another birthday celebration here in the newsroom. A colleague visiting from New York was celebrating his 56th. A cake had just arrived for him too. “Cheese cake and red velvet cake with graham crackers in the middle and icing,” relayed 56 year-old birthday boy Joe Von Kanel, with a veteran writer’s precision. I didn’t want to be rude. But that small taste of Gupta on Okinawa gave me pause. Longer life. Fewer calories. I’ll pass.

This is not the first time I’ve felt compelled to adjust my behavior based on Sanjay Gupta’s reporting. I can’t arrive at a hotel late at night and order guilt-free room service before I go to sleep anymore because of Dr. Gupta’s admonitions against eating too close to bedtime.

I read some more.

Okinawan Mantra

“Consistent movement” is another secret of Okinawan centenarians, reports Gupta. Okinawans do not live sedentary lives. (Excuse me while I adjust my position in front of my computer.)

Among the examples Gupta cites is an Okinawan fisherman in his 90s who continued to dive off his boat for Uni – (sushi lovers rejoice – eat it with real, grated, wasabi if you can find it.)

Low calorie diets. Active lifestyles. Wise food choices you’ve probably heard about, including lots of deeply colored fruits and vegetables.

But what seems to have left the biggest impression on Dr. Gupta is an Okinawan mealtime mantra that was news to me.

Hara hachi bu. That means push away from the table. When? Before you feel full. When you’re about 80 percent full, to be more precise. Why? Neurosurgeon Gupta explains the neurological reasons. You’ll have to read his book.

Chasing Life aims to empower us all to live healthier, longer lives.

His latest book and documentary, Cheating Death, aims to enable us all to benefit from the latest, greatest, lifesaving techniques should the need arise.

On my first day of 50 I feel like I’m right at the nexus of Chasing Life and Cheating Death. My long-time colleague, CNN Editorial Director Richard Griffiths, insists I’m closer to the Cheating Death side. He also acknowledges paying for my deliciously rich high-calorie birthday cake. Hmm.

Starting Here, Starting Now

I’m not sure how Chasing Life and Cheating Death will help me with my quest to destroy the worshipers of the 18-49 demo and create A NEW DEMO FOR A NEW AGE. I’ll figure that out later.

But here’s what I want to know now from my friend Sanjay Gupta.

Let’s assume that I’m behind the curve.

Let’s assume that, during my first 50 years, I have not maximized my chances of living well until 100.

Is it too late to start today, on my 50th birthday? Is it too late for me to have an Okinawan Outcome?

Paging Dr. Gupta.

As soon as he gets back to me, I’ll get back to you.

Follow Michael Schulder's battle against getting kicked out of the 18-49 demo here

Filed under: Michael Schulder
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Deb Hansen

    I'll be waiting to hear! Interesting topic, especially the fact that we must create a better framework for the over 50 crowd. Retirement (whenever THAT happens!) should not mean "OLD." It must be reframed into what is truly should be: The time to enjoy the rest of our lives and offer our wisdom to those who wish to receive it, while we are remain healthy, active contributing members of society.

    December 17, 2009 at 9:41 am |
  2. meenas17

    Active lifestyle, less calories,and 80% food intake will enrich life.
    But do we really have to live to 100?
    Do not ever wish to live for a century Michael.

    December 17, 2009 at 9:26 am |