Dr. George Knox may be the oldest practicing psychologist in the country. At 91, he’s been hypnotizing patients at his private practice in Gahanna, Ohio, for over half a century. And for the last 40 years, his stress-free lifestyle has centered on running ultra-marathons and practicing auto-suggestion — sometimes at the same time.
Recorded in Washington, DC. Premiered January 4, 2003, on Weekend Edition Saturday.
Anti-Aging: A Triple Approach to Longevity
by George W. Knox, Ph.D.
I am frequently asked to talk about aging. I start by bragging that I know a lot about aging because I have been doing it for a long time. Actually, I am more interested in anti-aging — slowing it down, and even, for short period of time, reversing it. Is this going against the way things were planned for us? Is it an attempt to sneak beyond the traditional three score and ten?
No, it may be just the opposite. It may be stretching toward what the Creator intended for us to have. Recent research indicates that the average human being has the potential to live for about 120 years: six score. We don’t reach the allotted time because of the many errors in the way we live — the thoughts we have, the substances we put in out bodies, the activities we do.
If most of us reduced our errors and approached the life span intended for us, ours would not be a society of biologically old people. More people would stay young longer. Ideally, we would die healthy, and we would stay healthy and active until our programmed genes had run their course. It would not just be more years, it would be better years — high quality years as well as mere quantity of years. Most of us die prematurely.
I began to get these notions in my head about thirty years ago when doctors gave me an estimated five more years to live after my first and only heart attack. I had been making all kinds of errors. I ate too much, exercised too little, smoked a pipe, had too many negative thoughts, etc. All my male relatives had died in the ’50s and ’60s of heart attacks. Was it bad genes or was it lifestyle? I couldn’t change my genes, but I could change the way I lived. So after studying what was available on longevity and anti-aging, I began a triple approach toward living beyond those five years. So far, it has worked for thirty years! The approaches are 1) exercise, 2) nutrition, and 3) the power of the mind.
“Age slows running, but running slows aging.”
Nowadays, cardiologists have rehab exercise programs that gradually increase in intensity and duration. The trouble is, too many people do not keep at it after the supervised program is over. Not only should the exercise be continued, but in most cases it should be gradually increased in intensity and duration. The most beneficial exercise heart rate is 60-80% of your maximum (220 heartbeats per minute, minus your age in years).
Thirty years ago, most doctors said to eliminate activity after a heart attack — Don’t do this, Don’t do that, Don’t walk so fast, Don’t climb stairs. My relatives all followed this prescription and died early. So I went in the opposite direction and began walking, then jogging, then running around our backyard pool. Soon, I graduated to running the charity walks, then to five- and ten-kilometer and five-mile races each weekend. I got into marathons and ultramarathons — fifty kilometers, fifty miles, and 100 kilometers. All this was more than I needed, and my wife Lorena said I didn’t have sense enough to stop. I reached my peak at age seventy in a 100-km run and have been slowing down ever since. So now the jersey I wear reads, “Slowing but still Going,” front and back. Lorena once asked, “Why do you wear it on the back? There’s no one running behind you anymore!” I did, however, end up with several age-world records.
Running a marathon probably does not improve your health, but the months of preparation certainly do. When I see top runners at a race, most of them look a decade younger than their chronological age. One of the closest measurements of the rate-of-aging process is called VO2 Max. It normally decreases at 1% a year. Consider the findings of J.L. Hogson, Ph.D., at Penn State: “If a seventy-year-old were to begin an exercise program at the level of moderate exercise, he could expect to improve his VO2 Max by about fifteen years. However, if the same sedentary seventy-year-old were to achieve an athlete’s level of conditioning, he could regain forty years of his VO2 Max.” Any aerobic exercise is equally beneficial, and can be supplemented by short, intense intervals.
“You are what you eat.”
What should I eat? It’s a common habit to ask your doctor about almost anything concerning health. Yet our family doctor of many years admits that all he knows about nutrition, he learned from reading Prevention magazine. Many doctors did not have a single course on nutrition during medical school, so you may have to be on your own and start studying. Fortunately, some doctors and even medical schools are beginning to listen to voices outside of mainstream medicine. They are combining what they already know about medicine and are studying and using what is called alternative medicine (the kind that insurance companies don’t pay for). There is now a large organization of alternative medicine practitioners consisting of several thousand doctors. They include not only nutrition in their practice, but all other forms of therapy not found on mainstream medicine. So keep studying on your own, learn what you can from your health store and, if you wish, find an alternative medicine doctor. If you want to find a doctor in your area who practices alternative medicine, write to the American College for Advancement in Medicine, 23121 Verdugo Drive, Suite 204, Laguna Hills, California, 92653, (800) 532-3688.
Your total nutrition includes much more than what you eat and drink. It involves the amount you eat or drink, what supplements you take, and whatever substances you take in through your nose or through your skin (patch or injection). Many doctors and dieticians still cling to the notion that three square meals a day will give us all the nutrients we need. More emphasis is put on vegetables and fruits, and less on meats and reduction of fats (polyunsaturated rather than saturated fats). The American Heart Association reduced their recommended intake of calories from fat to about 30%. The book, The Pritikin Diet for Runners, cuts the fat to 10%. I followed mainly this program, and added a few items, which I refer to as super foods. There are many substances we generally do not get enough of from the usual three square meals a day. There are so many that I found it easiest to take a large sheet of paper and mark letters A through Z. Then I fill in the list with health-producing substances, special foods, and supplements, along with their optimum amounts. If you have an alternative-medicine doctor who believes in using health supplements, a comprehensive blood test can yield the information to determine the amount of each substance your body requires for best health and longevity.
The Power of the Mind
“As the man thinketh, so is he.”
For many years, doctors have talked about psychosomatic disorders: bodily disorders produced or made worse by the state of mind. The most common of these physical disorders include high blood pressure, heart and vascular disorders, tension headaches, and digestive disorders. Almost any disorder, however, involves a mind (psycho), body (soma) circular causation. The physical disorder causes worry, anxiety, pain, or discomfort. These states of mind diminish the power of the immune and healing systems. In study after study, patients with a positive attitude, using guided imagery, positive autosuggestion and positive suggestion by others, get well more often, more quickly, and more completely.
This brings up a major point. Through the years, psychosomatic medicine has emphasized only the negative effect on the body of negative mental states like worry, anxiety, fear, anger, depression, etc. When talking about psychosomatic medicine, doctors almost always mean negative psychosomatic. The phrase “positive psychosomatic,” the healthy power that positive states of mind have on bodily functions, is hardly ever mentioned. In hypnotherapy, the phrase Ideo — motor principle — is used. This means that every state of mind constantly sends its influence — good or bad — through the body. So the state of mind is constantly changing the condition and chemistry of the body.
When we worry and are anxious (mental states), impulses travel to our adrenal glad, which then secrete excessive adrenaline, raising our blood pressure, heart beat, and blood sugar and stops or diminished out digestive functions. This can cause serious bodily conditions and sickness over time.
It is the last moment of a championship basketball game; the biochemistry of the two teams is roughly equal. One shot occurs, and one team wins by a point. Immediately, one team is in a state of extreme happiness. Healthful endorphins saturate their bloodstreams. The other team immediately goes into intense depression and their bloodstreams become saturated with depression-associated harmful substances.
Psychiatrists give anti-depressant or anti-anxiety drugs, which affect the state of mind in the desired direction. Others train themselves by biofeedback, hypnosis, autosuggestion, meditation and prayer which influence or control their state of mind and health. This is positive psychosomatics. If physicians and their patients would pay as much attention to the daily use of positive psychosomatics as they do to negative psychosomatics, we would be a much healthier, longer-lived people than we are now.
Where do anti-stress techniques, such as self-hypnotic programming, autosuggestions, positive self-talk, relaxation training, etc., come into the picture? By a person’s own conscious direction he or she can train himself or herself to let the stress roll off like water from a duck. Then that person can deal more efficiently with the problem situation. This self-programming may be started with the help of another person trained in the techniques of stress management.
What is in your mind is constantly sending its influences through your body. Through the limbus area at the base of the brain, impulses are carried down to every muscle, organ, and gland. The substances of the blood are determined by the exercise we do or do not do, by what we eat and drink, by the supplements or pills we take, the air we breathe, and by our state of mind. By conscious decision, we can largely determine what each of these shall be. At any age that we decide to, we can help extend out years beyond the traditional three score and ten, toward the six score that recent research indicates the Creator has endowed for us in our genes. It is the quality, not just the quantity, of years that we should strive for. We do not want to be old longer, we want to stay young (physically and psychologically) longer. You may not only add years to your life, but also more life to your years.
A photo of Knox with his running trophies
This documentary comes from Sound Portraits Productions, a mission-driven independent production company that was created by Dave Isay in 1994. Sound Portraits was the predecessor to StoryCorps and was dedicated to telling stories that brought neglected American voices to a national audience.