I could live to 100.
Or, more accurately stated, I could live to 100???
Apparently, yes. Dr. Perls says so.
I don’t know Perls, but on a snowy weekday just before the arrival of 2016, he made me realize a few things, not the least of which is that I am not socking away nearly enough in my 401(k).
Thomas Perls is founder and director of the New England Centenarian Study, the world’s largest study of centenarians and their families.
Coming from Eastern European Jewish stock, where chicken fat was a food group, and heart disease, cancer and diabetes still kick my clan with particular ferociousness, I figured there was just so far I could run in these genes.
But hope springs eternal, particularly at a fresh New Year with my birthday approaching. So when I came across Dr. Perls’ easy-to-take online questionnaire — livingto100.com — I was intrigued.
Then freaked out.
I steer clear of palm readers, tarot readers and psychic fairs, not because I don’t buy what they’re selling, but because they might tell me something that sounds creepily real.
I read my horoscope daily but believe it only when it tells me exactly what I want to hear. Doesn’t everybody?
But, hey, Perls is a doctor. Besides, I figured, no matter what he concluded, there still was time to change my bad habits.
I told myself that a shorter life, well-lived and well-loved, is far preferable to dying old and cranky.
I told myself that quick online surveys are mostly bunk, anyway. How could a stranger several states away know I wasn’t confessing to the chocolate bowl on my desk?
Then I jumped in. After a few minutes answering myriad questions practical and personal, I stared at five astonishing words:
“Your calculated age is 100.” Then, to knock my wool socks off, five more: “You could live to 104.”
I swear my shoulders straightened in my chair. There is something oddly invigorating about the possibility of the big picture growing even bigger.
What if I were guaranteed 100 largely healthy years? What in this great big world would I do with them?
Return to school? Spoil great-grandchildren? Finally learn to cook? Travel to Mars?
It’s important to note that Perls didn’t release me or anybody from responsibility, even as he opened the gate to the triple-digit line. Far from it, his 10-page, single-spaced summary of personal feedback was all about me earning it.
Managing stress. Making and keeping friendships. Getting enough sleep, but not too much. Working enough, but not too much. Avoiding white bread and potatoes. Avoiding desserts and candy bars. Staying optimistic. Playing brain-strengthening games. Learning a new language or musical instrument. Not smoking. Flossing. Wearing sunscreen. Moderating alcohol. (“Excessive alcohol is a toxin,” he noted.)
Keeping the weight off. Cutting out caffeine and giving tea a chance — a brave decision that could grant me yet another year more in life expectancy.
OK, Perls sounds just like our own doctors. But there’s something fun about free advice that you can get right from your chair without having to put on a paper gown.
I’m glad I took the test. I’m grateful to Perls for his important reminders. I promise to take them to healthy heart, but with a grain of salt.
Because we all know that life is full of joyful surprises, and jolting tragedies. Taking an 81 mg aspirin, as Perls advised me, can add a year to my life, as long as I don’t step distractedly in front of a light rail train.
Still, there’s little harm in planning, or dreaming. Or even compromising a bit when we’re old enough and wise enough already to know our limits.
Because, Dr. Perls, I’m not giving up coffee. Or chocolate.
Ninety-nine? That sounds plenty good to me.