Jack LaLanne has died of pneumonia at age 96. I was as impressed with him as everyone else was. At age 60, he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed, with his legs shackled, and towing a 1,000-pound boat. I'm 60 now. Could I do that? Well, I might be able to handle the swim, but that cold 58 degree water? Forget about it. I could not tolerate the cold.
As you know, 96 is a very long life. It's about 20 years beyond the lifespan of the average American man. However, increasingly, we are hearing of people who reach that age- and beyond. Centenarians are becoming ever more common. And when we hear about centenarians, they are often just regular people- not lifelong fitness fanatics and health food nuts, like Jack LaLanne and Yours Truly. So what does it mean? Should we take a cynical attitude? If little old ladies in nursing homes can sometimes reach 103 without doing anything special, should we take any of this health stuff seriously?
I think we should. You can't just look at the raw numbers. You have to look at the quality of the life behind the number. Yes, Jack LaLanne, died at an age that increasingly more people are reaching. However, he reached that age in much better condition- physically and mentally- than most people reach it (if they reach it at all). And that's an important distinction because life is more about quality than quantity, in my opinion.
And we should not overlook the role that luck plays. Jack LaLanne did not die of cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, which are the three biggest killers of people in modern life. He died of complications from pneumonia. However, there was a certain amount of bad luck in his getting pneumonia because it is something that depends, among other things, on exposure. What if he had decided to spend the winter in Bermuda? Maybe he would not have gotten pneumonia. Or maybe he would have gotten it, but a milder case of it, from which he could have, and would have, recovered. And if he had recovered, maybe it would have been smooth sailing for him all the way to 100 and beyond. We hear a lot about centenarians and usually at times that they are doing well, but we don't always hear about the close calls they may have had that could have taken them out years before. They were lucky. I don't care who you are: if you make it to 100, there's got to be some luck involved. Think of all the ways and times you could have been killed in an accident over the course of 100 years.
So, Jack LaLanne has nothing to explain for cashing in his chips at 96. I wish he could have lived longer- for his sake, and for the sake of additional others he would have inspired and helped. However, the superb condition in which he lived the final years of his life was proof-positive that his system works.