I cannot help noticing that those who urge us not to fight ageing, but instead embrace grey hairs and support stockings with charm and good grace, may not be in the first flush of youth, but have not yet fallen fully into, let’s say, full maturity.
Their words are essentially letters of self-reassurance: Hey, self! Old age is not so bad! (I beg to differ. Spoiler alert: this isn’t going to end well for any of us.)
The latest I read was from a 39-year-old professor, writing about living well, who described the “slow creep to 40”. Ohmygod, 39! I can’t imagine. Let me take notes.
Then there’s California-based tech entrepreneur Bryan Johnson, who made $800 million selling his company 10 years ago, and now devotes his life to working with scientists to reverse the ageing process.
At 45, he says he has the fitness of an 18-year-old, the heart of a 37-year-old, and the skin of a 28-year-old. And maybe the intelligence of a 10-year-old who thinks he’s Superman? No, sorry, don’t mind me. I’m just jealous of his $800 million.
Bryan goes to bed at 8.30pm, doesn’t eat after 11am so that he has a full eight hours of digestion before sleeping, takes 111 pills a day, and has “super veggies” for breakfast, which includes broccoli, cauliflower, garlic, ginger and hemp seeds with extra virgin olive oil and cacao. Yum. He reckons he can live forever, but I suspect it’s only going to feel that way.
Imagine we lusted after human improvement as we do tech advance.
Join the revolution; don't die. pic.twitter.com/N2u9F4fpPx
— Zero (@bryan_johnson) August 3, 2023
In his search for eternal life, he has even injected himself with the blood plasma of his 17-year-old son. This is because research with mice showed that when an old mouse and a young mouse were stitched together to share a circulatory system, the old mouse had restored muscle and liver cells and an enhanced growth of brain cells. Sadly, it didn’t turn out so good for the young mouse who had reduced growth, but there comes a time when every child has to pay back their parents.
It was also a bit unfortunate that if the two rodents didn’t get on so well, one would chew the head off the other. Perhaps that’s why Johnson makes it a rule never to share a bed with anyone and not to have sex after 8.30 pm. Discreet veil necessary there, I think.
Looking at the pictures, I’d say 45-year-old Bryan looks about – give or take a year or two either way – 45-ish. Ain’t life a bitch?
Anyway, in terms of anti-ageing benefits, what can you expect from the rigours of this regime? Well, looking at the pictures, I’d say 45-year-old Bryan looks about – give or take a year or two either way – 45-ish. Ain’t life a bitch?
The bit that killed me was that after his daily kilogram of vegetables, he allows himself a “dessert” – you’d have to, wouldn’t you? – but this consists of macadamia nuts mixed with berries and proteins. I’m not going to lie. That’s a disappointing dessert menu right there.
I’m easy pleased on sweet stuff. Chocolate is super-acceptable, but I’ll take pretty much anything if you put enough double cream on it. (Maybe a bit of flake for decoration, if you’ve got it. Thank you.) Berries and protein? Well, not so much.
The secret to happiness
The element, of course, that is missing in all this talk of eternity can be provided by Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, recipient of the French National Order of Merit for his humanitarian efforts, French interpreter for the Dalai Lama, doctor of cellular genetics, and international bestselling author of books about altruism, happiness and wisdom. Ricard’s brain was once found to produce gamma waves at such pronounced levels that he was dubbed “the world’s happiest man”.
This was not exactly scientific, as Ricard is the first to admit. He does, though, have clear views on happiness, which he says springs from compassion for others.
When asked what angers him, he has to go back 20 years, to the day he had a new laptop and another monk, who didn’t know what it was, spilled roasted barley flour on it. (Roasted barley flour, anyone?)
Doing something to feel good yourself, without doing anything for others, says Ricard, is like making a flame that burns with light but no warmth, which is really rather a lovely way of putting it.
Is Johnson’s quest just for him? Can we all join in? The Office for National Statistics estimates that in 50 years’ time, the over-65s will have increased by a population roughly the size of London. Unfortunately, only half the additional years we can expect will be spent in good health. So, if Johnson can bottle eternal youth, I’m in. But is a restricted life worth a longer life? Our answer to that reveals our philosophical values.
Quantity or quality? I can’t help feeling that Matthieu Ricard’s life recipe is as likely to win extra years as Bryan Johnson’s. With the added bonus that he doesn’t have to eat broccoli and garlic for breakfast.
Catherine Deveney is an award-winning investigative journalist, novelist and television presenter