27 July 2007

Dare to live longer

Thought now was the time to take things easy? You might not being doing yourself any favours. A bit of adrenaline and a sense of adventure might be just what you need.


Thought now was the time to take things easy? You might not being doing yourself any favours. A bit of adrenaline and a sense of adventure might be just what you need to live to a ripe – and sprightly – old age.

You’re probably familiar with the Robert Frost poem about the road less travelled (The first three callers to recite the correct one will win a mystery gift. Operators are waiting to take your call) has been used – often misquoted – to sell everything from deodorant to timeshare. And while many blokes regard their early 20s as a time to apply the ethos of getting out and doing more, many of us lose that zest for life as the responsibilities pile up.

There’s nothing like a house bond from hell, colleagues being “downsized” and rampant school fees to make you shelve your plans to become a part-time aerobatics pilot in favour of longer office hours.

Before you know it, a trip to the local nursery to collect some compost has become the highlight of the weekend. And as your horizons narrow, so does your capacity for handling the new and unexpected.

A new study has found that perhaps you should indeed haul out your credit card and splash out on a set of scuba gear after all. Well, the study didn’t find that per se, but it might be worth presenting that notion to your partner, who feels the money would be better spent on a new lawnmower.

Heightened stress leads to early death
According to Science magazine, the study was done on rats, which is appropriate enough, considering that humans call their working life a rat race. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that rats that consistently suffered heightened stress levels died earlier than those who didn’t. Here’s how.

In humans, more than 10 percent of children suffer from something called neophobia, defined as a fear of novel but non-threatening situations. This can be something as seemingly mundane as being in a room they’ve never been in before. These youngsters were also found to have higher levels of a stress hormone called glucocorticosteroids. So the scientists used the glucocorticosteroid levels to establish which rats were neophobic. They also monitored which rats were reluctant to explore new surroundings.

They established that neophobic rats died an average of three months earlier than their more adventurous siblings. Extrapolated to human terms that’s the equivalent of dying 10 years earlier than their peers. It could be reasoned that if you’re going to live like a wimp, life’s not worth living anyway.

So what’s to be done in the meantime? Well, you can try learning scuba diving, skydiving or white-water kayaking. For many guys, these pastimes become a way of life, a way of making the mundane things that pay the bills bearable. They spend every free moment and a lot of money on them.

If that’s not for you, you can try the one-off, doing-it-for-a-dare stuff like tandem skydiving or bungee jumping.

For many guys, this sort of activity – where you hand over your cash and are scared witless for a few seconds – is far less fulfilling than more cerebral, but equally challenging pursuits.

Some folk choose pastimes that bring them face-to-face with their fears. That may not be necessary for much longer: a pill that dissolves your phobias may soon be available. Named D-cyclerosine, it causes changes in the part of your brain that deals with learning and memory. Originally used to treat tuberculosis, it now seems that D-cyclerosine helps people re-evaluate things that scare them – anything from heights to spiders and public speaking.

And if you’re not into abseiling or kiteboarding, then learning a new language, doing volunteer work or taking the family hiking might not seem like pushing the envelope, but it’s a darned sight more than a lot of rats do in their lifetime.(William Smook)


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