"Every day 30 Americans turn 100," the letter began. "Will you be one of them?"
Since I haven't the slightest chance or hope of turning 100, it wasn't a very provocative question.
However, granting that I might not become a centenarian, the letter offered to show how I could find out whether I might exceed my own life expectancy, as calculated by actuaries, or fall short of it.
A questionnaire, prepared by Cadwell Davis Partners, advertising, was enclosed.
"The average life expectancy for a person of your age and sex has been calculated by actuaries. However, you can add months, years, even decades to your life, or foreshorten it, depending upon your family life, personality, fitness, work, play, health and heredity. No matter what your age, you'll see opportunities to prolong your life by changing a few habits."
The test included a number of questions, the answers to which would indicate whether you could add anywhere from three months to two years to your life expectancy, or had to deduct so many months from it.
For example, if you are single and over 40, you have to deduct six months. If you are a widow or a widower you have to deduct six months. If your home life is extremely pleasant and calm you add six months.
Being neither single nor divorced, and having an extremely calm and pleasant home life, most of the time, I added six months to my life expectancy, which is, given my age and sex, 79 years.
That meant, to start with, that having an extremely pleasant and calm home life, I could expect to live to 79 years and six months.
So far so good. But almost immediately I lost that extra six months. The question was: Are you tense and nervous most of the time? If so, deduct six months.
So I'm back to 79.
Then I lost six months by being a Type A personality--very competitive, always rushed, do many things at once.
I lost another six months for living in a city. (If you live in a small town or on a farm you can add three months.)
If you're satisfied with your sexual activity you can add nine months; but if you aren't satisfied, you don't have to deduct anything.
Evidently that means that not being satisfied with your sex life won't reduce your life expectancy any. As for my own sex life, I have always considered that a private matter.
If you get 20 or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three times a week you can add 12 months. I have just recently started exercising at the Pasadena Athletic Club, riding a bicycle for 20 minutes, while I watch the "Today" show, then working the rowing machine for 20 minutes.
The good of this program may be undone, however, by my habit of rewarding myself for exercising by going to the Konditori for breakfast after every session, and having a hamburger with one egg, over easy.
However, if my exercise counts, I am two years ahead of anyone who doesn't exercise. They have to deduct 12 months.
I get three months for drinking low-fat milk only, and three months for eating high-fiber foods. For not smoking I can add six months. (Moderate smoking takes off 12 months and heavy smoking 24.)
Since I drink alcohol in what I consider moderation I have to deduct six months. If I drank never or seldom I could add six months.
The question seems to be this: Assuming that my life expectancy is 79, do I want to give up drinking merely to be able to live another six months at the end? Right now, I don't think so. Maybe when I'm 79 I'll feel different.
I get to add three months, though, because my job satisfaction is above average. (Though I don't know what average job satisfaction is.)
If you take a vacation at least once a year you can add six months. I don't know how to answer that. I have taken some vacations, in my leaner days, on which I got another job and worked. Last year I didn't take a vacation at all. I wonder whether, if I take a vacation this year, I'll get my six extra months.
If you're regularly exposed to air pollution you have to deduct three months; if you're regularly exposed in substantial amounts, deduct nine months. Since I live close to downtown Los Angeles I suppose I am regularly exposed; but whether that exposure is substantial, I don't know. I'm splitting it and taking six months off my life.
I haven't listed all the factors that are said to effect either a longer or shorter life span. However, if my addition is accurate, there is no way anyone can get to be 100, so the original question is a fraud, it seems to me.
I added up all the possible plus factors and got only 93 months--so if I could count them all, with no deductions for minus factors, I would still outlive my life expectancy only by seven years and nine months.
My true score shows that I'm going to have only six extra months.
So how do you get to be a centenarian?
I have an idea you get to be a centenarian by having grandparents with good genes; you drink a little, smoke a little, make love a little, and, like Hank Williams, you "Don't worry 'bout nothin', 'cause nothin' ain't gonna work out all right nohow."