How To Live Forever*
By Mark Wexler on September 04, 2012
Mark is a preeminent documentary filmmaker and an award-winning photojournalist.
As a photojournalist and a documentary filmmaker, I have always been drawn to stories of the human connections that define us, an interest reflected in my work. The retreat of my hairline and the arrival of my AARP card led me to examine the most fundamental human connection of all – life itself. Somewhere between the hyperbaric chamber and the cryonic pod, I began to fully appreciate the complexity of the issue.
A few years ago, I decided to indulge my life-long fascination with health and life-extension by making a documentary, How To Live Forever*. I added an asterisk after the title which says "Results May Vary." This was partly to be cheeky, partly to avoid being sued, and partly because my worldwide quest to discover the secrets of a long and healthy life yielded surprising and often contradictory lessons. How else can I explain Jack LaLanne, an avowed health and fitness enthusiast living on liquefied carrots to the ripe old age of 96 while Buster Martin, a chain-smoking, marathon runner (no water, thanks, only beer), lived to be 104 years old? How can that be?
I recently came across the Archon Genomics X PRIZE presented by Express Scripts. It is a global competition run by the X PRIZE Foundation that challenges teams to sequence 100 genomes of 100 centenarians (including the world’s oldest known person, Besse Cooper, who recently turned 116) to a level of fidelity never before achieved. Is it entirely possible to live beyond 100 due solely to the genes of your ancestors or is it something more? While my movie explores the lifestyles of certain centenarians and how they lived to this remarkable milestone, the X PRIZE competition seeks to give the world the technology and the DNA so that researchers can unravel the secret of longevity. Should be very interesting.
And while this genomics X PRIZE will not be won until October 2013, I'm grateful that the X PRIZE Foundation is working to solve one of life’s grand challenges and to finally remove that asterisk, because frankly, I'm getting really sick of green tea. In the meantime, I will share some of the things I learned making the film. First, never underestimate the power of the humble chili dog. By this I mean to say that the predominant trait my subjects had in common was a real hunger for life – they were active, engaged, involved. For some, this meant competing in Ms. Senior USA pageants; for another, it meant beginning a porn career as a septuagenarian. Second, welcome each stage of your life as it comes and it won't kick your butt. Enough with the Botox already. Spend that time and money helping kids in your community. You'll get back what you give tenfold. Third, there are some really smart people figuring out how to save our bacon. Wouldn't it be great to have the health you had at twenty yet the wisdom you have at sixty? Fourth, if all else fails, chill out. Cryonics might buy us the time to enjoy all the great advances our scientists will discover, and maybe we'll finally get those flying cars they promised us back in the Sixties. Last but not least, watch my film How To Live Forever*, now available on DVD and iTunes. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you might just buy a juicer.