Tag Archives: tennis

To Your Health

Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (Or Die Trying) by Bill Gifford (Grand Central Publishing, $16.99, 366 pages)

spring chicken cover Amazon

Spring Chicken is a book with an intended audience. You should read this book only if you are interested in living longer.

bill gifford

Bill Gifford is a rather average guy, with a receding hairline and a bit of a beer gut, who decides to investigate how to live to and past the age of 100. It’s pretty tricky stuff, especially since “your risk of dying doubles roughly every eight years.” What?

When we’re young, the risk (of dying) is fairly minimal; there isn’t much difference between age twenty-five and, say, thirty-five. But thirty-five to forty-five is a big jump, and by fifty our peers are popping up with breast cancers and colon cancers and high blood pressure and other scary ailments.

Yes, this death business is pretty scary stuff. But Gifford handles it with a great deal of humor and more than a dab of self-deprecation. The surprising thing is that, other than being born with good genes (such as the writer’s grandmother in her late 90s who eats an unhealthy serving of rich pastry each and every morning) and doing one of two things, he finds that there are no magic bullets to avoid aging. The key – how simple is this? – is not to avoid aging but to avoid aging as quickly as others in your peer group.

Gifford notes a harsh reality, that at a high school or college reunion of individuals the same age, some will appear to be older than their classmates and some will appear to be younger. This is, to some extent, the luck of the genetic draw but is also a reflection of lifestyle. (The individual who appears to be younger – such as the old friend who has retained a full head of hair, bright eyes and sparkling nails, may in fact be healthier; although this is not a hard and fast rule.)

Gifford’s self-assigned job was to find out what factors result in a person living a longer and, more importantly, a healthier life. He discovers that there has not been much substantive progress in this venture. Why haven’t we devoted as much time and energy to improving and extending human life as to, say, putting a man on the moon? To be sure, science and medicine are working to eliminate deadly diseases but whenever one is conquered another one pops up to take its place. (Gifford provides a logical explanation of why we age and die. Some of it has to do with the fact that the resources of our planet are limited. But the key is that human life is tied to the survival of the species, not the individual. Aging, in fact, is a visible signal to the world that we’ve moved beyond our essential, critical breeding years.)

If there’s no magic to aging slowly and extending life, what things can be done? First, as a research scientist-physician tells Gifford, “It’s very simple. Get off the couch.” Exercise is the drug. And it need not be strenous, back-breaking exercise. You can walk, jog, swim, or play tennis or golf. Almost anything done regularly which involves movement helps to extend health and life. (However, sports that involve stress and torque, like tennis and golf, are highly problematic for aging backs.)

Exercise is key because mobility is essential. Without mobility – and this is true in humans as well as for animals in general, disease and death are never far away. In Spring Chicken, Gifford includes practical tests that one can use to self-measure mobility.

So, exercise is one key factor in terms of longevity. Remember that Gifford discovered two important factors. However, no spoiler alert is needed as I’m not going to disclose the second factor here. You will need to purchase the book to learn that rather surprising “secret.”

spring chicken alternate cover

Read this book and stay young forever! Or, die trying.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

“Gifford’s survey of those who study aging and those who claim they can slow it down or stop it makes for a great read.” The Washington Post

Vitamania

If you read and enjoy Spring Chicken, you may also want to consider Vitamania: Our Obsessive Quest for Nutritional Perfection by Catherine Price.

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A Painful Read

“Though it makes no sense, I’d like to get on the court again.   I want the pain that only tennis can provide.”   – Andre Agassi

Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world.   – C. S. Lewis

“(Brooke’s) concerned.   She hates I was so upset…   that I’m in pain.”   – Andre Agassi

“This is why we’re here.   To fight through the pain…”   – Andre Agassi

“…seek the pain, woo the pain, recognize that pain is life.”   – Gil Reyes

‘Cause feeling pain’s a hard way/To know you’re still alive   – Barry Manilow

“…let’s go put some pain on your opponents.”   – Brad Gilbert

This one is about pain, as reflected in the selected quotes – all taken from Open: An Autobiography – listed above.   One would think that the autobiography of a glamorous tennis star, one who ranked at the top of his profession, who owned his own jet, and dated and married famous actresses and tennis stars, would be a fun read.   Open is anything but, it’s a morose slog though a life of torture and misery.   It seems like Agassi tells us a million times in the book that he hates tennis:   “I hate tennis more than ever – but I hate myself more.”   And the point of this is?

Of course, this book was not actually written by Mr. Agassi.   It was dictated to a ghostwriter whose name won’t be used here to protect his ghostly status.   This is an “as told to…” tale in which the Agassi-ghost pair appear to emphasize every painful moment in their character’s life, while minimizing the positive.   But then Agassi, clearly, loves his stays in the state of misery:   “Rock bottom can be very cozy, because at least you’re at rest.   You know you’re not going anywhere for a while.”

It’s not as if Agassi is unaware that he’s a lucky man, “I tell myself you can’t be unhappy when you have money in the bank and own your own plane.   But…   I feel listless, hopeless, trapped in a life I didn’t choose…”   Yes, all of this misery comes from playing a sport of the leisured class.   “I’ve played this game for a lot of reasons…   and it seems like none of them has ever been my own.”   Perhaps he thinks that we’ve all been in complete control of our lives from the moment of birth on, ignoring the comment of John Lennon, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Lennon also wrote about pain:   “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”   But it never seemed like his music was overtaken by the need to paint his life as a prison of pain.   Agassi’s book does so, over and over again.   Because Agassi does not like himself much, he can hardly be expected to have nice things to say about his former competitors in the sport.   After he said some not-so-nice things about Wimbledon champion Jim Courier, Courier responded, “I’m insecure?”   Indeed.

Of course, by the time the reader finally reaches page 384 there’s the to-be-expected happy ending, with marriage and beautiful children and the founding of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy charter school.   But what an exhausting march to get there…   filled with too much pain and too little hope.   Tiring.

This work is the opposite of a life affirming one.

Joseph Arellano

Note:   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Coming Up Next…

A review of Open: An Autobiography by Andre Agassi.

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Anyone for tennis?

Little Pancho 2Once young boys had dozens of books to chose from that chronicled the lives and achievements of their sports heroes; of baseball heroes like Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris and Sandy Koufax; of football players like Johnny Unitas and Paul Horning.   Those days are apparently long gone, but then along comes this somewhat-adoring view of the life of tennis great Pancho Segura.   Little Pancho covers the life of the dirt-poor, extremely sickly, Ecuadorian who began winning tennis championships in his teens and continued doing so until the age of 67.

Segura was the man who introduced the two-handed forehand to tennis and went on to coach a young man who would find some success, a player known as Jimmy Connors.   Author Seebohm writes with a smooth and flowing style that makes this biography as easy to read as a young-adults version.   She also focuses on the “pay it forward” aspects of Segura’s life, such as the fact that his coaching of Connors led Connors to later coach a “struggling but talented” Andy Roddick.   Roddick learned Segura’s skills via Connors.

The only drawback with this story is the feeling that Segura’s personality is never quite captured.   Still, a charming life well told.

University of Nebraska Press, $26.95, 210 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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