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Book Review - Chasing Life

Author: Sanjay Gupta
Reviewer - Manaswini Garimella

05/29/2007

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, explores the age-old quest to live forever in his new book, Chasing Life. He discusses five main ideas: nutrition, exercise, staying happy, the problem of cancer, and the future. His idea is not so much the pursuit of immortality, but rather living more healthily. As he says, "Given the chance, most of us would surely choose to live like an incandescent light bulb – shining brightly until the moment the light goes out. We want to live longer and die shorter." And he successfully compiles several studies and current research with common sense in order to make his point about living a longer active life.

            When talking about nutrition, he not only includes the common advice to eat more dark leafy vegetables, make sure we get all our vitamins and minerals, and cut down on the fatty foods, he also makes a few revelations. Stopping eating before we think we are full, or eating the bare minimum to survive, may actually lead to a longer life. He also cautions against trying to take supplements to prevent or cure all our problems, arguing that getting most of our nutrition from food instead is much healthier.

            His chapter on exercise, on the other hand, is nothing new. He urges the reader not only to exercise regularly, but to exercise strenuously regularly: to continually challenge the body physically. His argument is that only athletes in top form decline in their later years; since most of us have never been in top physical form, we can actually get younger by exercising, and attaining a more athletic body. Gupta uses an inspiring example of James Hammond, an octogenarian who finally became fit, to motivate the reader in the quest for a fitter body.

            Gupta also addresses the importance of the mind in staying youthful and living longer. Part of staying healthy, it turns out, is not just eating right and exercising, but also exercising the mind. Being well-educated, having a mentally challenging job, or indulging in other mental pursuits can extend life. Also, while most of us have heard about the importance of having a positive outlook on life, Gupta describes and cites several studies in which the connection between happiness and a long life is made clear, attributing the link to stress. He discusses the value of incorporating stress-relievers in our day-to-day routines.

            All of this advice comes together in Gupta's chapters on cancer, heart disease, obesity, and other diseases. He exposes several myths about supposed cancer-causing agents such as cell-phones and plastic, but reemphasizes the need for protecting against known carcinogens, and getting tested early.

            Finally, Dr. Gupta talks about the future, perhaps the most optimistic and revealing part of the book. Starting with futurist Ray Kurzweil's beliefs about a world in which everyone can live forever through robotics, nanotechnology and new medicines, Gupta discusses what might be in the future for humans looking not only for longevity, but youthfulness. He talks about current research into the aging processes of animals, and current technology, such as cryonics, the science of freezing someone dead to preserve their body and reanimate them when science has advanced sufficiently. While this chapter may seem too science-fiction-like for many, Gupta does manage to convey the idea that science is progressing at a rapid enough rate that we never know where we'll be twenty years from now in the quest for longevity. In the meanwhile, his advice in the rest of the book on staying healthy should keep us in good shape. 

Manaswini Garimella is a student of Wellesley College. She will be a Junior this fall.



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