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How to Add Years to Your Life; Heart Attack Saved One Man's Life; What You Should Have When Rushing Your Child to the ER

Aired April 12, 2008 - 08:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Good morning. This is HOUSE CALL. The show that helps you live longer and better.
First up, we're chasing life investigating the latest science, bringing you the experts on adding years to your life. Learn the one thing you can do today to improve your memory. Who doesn't want to know that?

Plus, learn why a heart attack at just 32-years-old actually saved one man's life.

And finally, what's the one thing you must have when rushing your child to the emergency room. Find out just ahead.

First a quick look, though, at the headlines affecting your health.

Some startling news out this week on medical mistakes. Get this. A new study discovered more than 238,000 potentially preventable deaths were caused by medical mistakes from 2004 to 2006. Now researchers focused on Medicare recipients and they noted something important. Those in top hospitals had 43 percent fewer errors. The bottom line, according to researchers, the better the hospital the better your outcome.

And a pair of studies suggests depression is a risk factor for Alzheimer's rather than a symptom. One study finds people who experience depression are almost three times more likely to develop the generative brain disorder and that risk is actually four times higher is actually four times higher if depression sets in before age 60.

Now, it's important to point out, this isn't the final word. You may remember I have reported on studies right here showing, in fact, it's the other way around. The biological changes caused by Alzheimer's may intensive a predisposition depression. Some of you have sent me e-mail questions about memory and Alzheimer's and depression. I'm going to be answering those in just a few minutes.

Now, most people don't want to live into advanced old age if it means being mentally or physically impaired. But new science out just this week shows you can add 10 to 12 good years to you life just by putting on those sneakers and getting a good aerobic workout. In fact, intense aerobic exercise well into your 60s seems to be the key. Boosting oxygen consumption, making your body feel younger.

It's yet another clue in the quest to living to 100 and beyond.


GUPTA (voice-over): Leonard Abraham lives by himself in suburban New York, in the same house he's lived in for half a century.

LEONARD ABRAHAM, 96 YEARS OLD: Well, fortunately, I still have all my marbles so I don't consider myself too old.

GUPTA: It's no secret that long life often runs in the family. Abraham's mother lived to 102.

Dr. Nir Barzilai at Albert Einstein College of Medicine wants to figure out how it works. How can longevity be passed from one generation to the next? Already, he has a few clues.

Dr. Barzilai finds them in the blood of people who have a family history of very old age, 95 or older. In addition to taking blood, Dr. Barzilai's team records height and weight, takes a medical history, measures blood pressure, pulse and other vital statistics, and tests cognitive functions.

Among the 90 and 100-year-olds in the study, no single lifestyle or diet has emerged as promoting very long life. And some people live a long time despite their lifestyle.

DR. NIR BARZILAI, INSTITUTE FOR AGING RESEARCH: You don't have anybody that exercises. We have several people who smoked. So for those people, the environment didn't matter. They had something else that we think is genetic.

GUPTA: Dan Buettner is also looking for centenarian hot spots, not in long live families, but in places on the globe where disproportionate number of people live a very long time. He calls them blue zones.

DAN BUETTNER, FOUNDER, QUEST NETWORK: We believe that by going to these blue zones and methodically looking at what the people do, we could distill out a de facto formula for longevity.

GUPTA: On the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, men who reach 60 are four times as likely to reach 100 as their counterparts in United States or Europe. These Costa Ricans eat a healthy diet, only vegetables and fruits, and the tortillas they eat are made using a special process that produces more calcium that helps keep bones strong in old age.

Conchita here is a good example. She's 100-years-old, walks where she needs to go, and is still able to wield a machete. Buettner says what he has learned from Costa Rica and the other blue zones offers a recipe for healthy living that could add eight good years to your life.


GUPTA: And Dan Buettner is here with us this morning. He is now an author, as well. The book is aptly titled "Blue Zone." You can figure that out. It's all about his travels and what he's learned about longevity.

Also with us, Dr. William Hall, geriatrician, director of the Center for Health and Aging in Highland, Rochester.

And Dan, let's start with you. First of all, thanks to both of you for joining us. Blue zones, red zones.


GUPTA: Do most of us live in a red zone? Is that why we don't live as long as other industrialized nations?

BUETTNER: I think it has a big impact. Only about six percent of how long we live is dictated by our genes for the average person. So if we're living in an area where we're surrounded by fast food, and you can only take your car, and there's lots of contaminants, that's necessarily going to drive down your life expectancy.

GUPTA: What is the blue zone? What does that mean?

BUETTNER: Well, for us it's a metaphor for these nine habits of living longer better, but we originally found it on the island of Sardinia. And the demographers we worked with were drawing circles on the map as we were getting closer and closer to this area where there were so many Centenarians. And they were using blue ink. So we just took the name and kind of ran with it.


BUETTNER: But it's a good aspirational name.

GUPTA: Yes. It does sound -- I feel healthier if I live in a blue zone than a red zone for sure.

BUETTNER: Kind of a mantra.

GUPTA: You say six percent as far as genetic influence.


GUPTA: And I -- as part of the piece that we just saw, you know, Dr. Barzilai has identified lots of genes that he calls longevity genes. I actually had myself tested, and I won't tell you how I did but it wasn't that great. How worried should I be? I mean how much do genes play a role here?

DR. WILLIAM HALL, SPECIALIST ON AGING: Well, I think part of the problem is we don't really know the answer to that. Aging is a kind of a new phenomenon for us as species. So the figures run from about 6 percent of genetic influence, to some people, I think your previous guests probably would have said closer to 30 percent, but we really don't know the answer to that.

What we do know is that sooner or later, probably sooner, we'll be able to actually manipulate some of the genes in the body, and that might be the first breakthrough in terms of longevity from a genetics standpoint.

GUPTA: We have a lot to talk about this. We're just getting going here, Dan Buettner, Dr. William Hall.

The question is: how much control do we really have over how long we live? Maybe more than you think. In fact, the breakfast you're eating right now could help determine that. Find out how you can extend your life today if you keep watching us.


GUPTA: And we're back with HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer.

More than 450,000 Americans die every year from heart attacks. The average age, around 70. Now, meet a man in his 30s who say his heart attack actually saved his life.


GUPTA: Kris Verdin knew he was living on borrowed time. He was 366 pounds and had a family history of heart disease.

KRIS VERDIN, HEART ATTACK SURVIVOR: A year and a half ago almost to the day I got done cutting my grass, I was watching some football, and I started having some breathing difficulties.

GUPTA: Chris's prediction came true, but much earlier than expected.

VERDIN: I had a heart attack at the age of 32.

GUPTA: He was rushed to the hospital to have an emergency angioplasty where doctors reopened an artery that was 100 percent blocked. He had five more (INAUDIBLE) put in the following week.

VERDIN: It was a traumatic experience, and I don't wish that on my worst enemy. But I mean, I've said many times the best that ever happened to me was I had a heart attack, because it's going to add years on to my life.

GUPTA: Since that day Kris traded in his pizza and fast-food eating habits for salad and grilled chicken. He became a group cycling instructor at the local YMCA. So far, he's dropped 110 pounds.

So what has the whole experience taught him?

VERDIN: You know you got to change. You got to take your life into your own hands or you'll have a wake-up call, and don't let the wake-up call be an ambulance taking you to the hospital and the nurse telling you that you had a heart attack.

My name is Kris Verdin and I've lost 110 pounds. (END VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: We're showing you how to chase life on today's show, living a longer and healthier life. But could obesity derail all of that? Experts say children today could wind up living shorter lives and their parents, (INAUDIBLE) obesity, think about that for a second.

Dr. William Hall is here with us. He is a specialist on aging. What do you think it means? They make all these medical advances, technological, could obesity reverse or erase all that?

HALL: Absolutely. And while the concentration has been on the children, the next generation coming together, the real problem, I think, from the geriatric standpoint, is that about 40 percent of older adults in the United States today are overweight. And a substantial proportion of those are obese.

GUPTA: What's happening, though? How does that actually erase all these advances?

HALL: So we think of obesity as something that has a cosmetic effect, adverse effect. It's a real problem particularly with adult onset of obesity around the middle portion of the body is that it's actually a very active metabolic organ. It produces a tremendous amount of inflammatory agents in the body, which we think are responsible for most vascular disease throughout the body. So it's a poison for the system.

GUPTA: People talk about this concept of caloric restriction. And I know there's been animal studies saying, you eat a third less, you can extend your lifespan by almost a third. Does that apply to humans in (INAUDIBLE)?

BUETTNER: I think it does to a certain extent. You know if you're slightly starving yourself, your body is not producing as many oxygen as agents that (INAUDIBLE).

GUPTA: Right.

BUETTNER: But the downside is people constantly starve themselves a little bit. They have lower sex drives, they have less energy, they're cold all the time. So you have the same amount of life energy to stretch it out, but it seems that the most promising drugs to add to longevity will mimic caloric restriction. So, in other words, you won't produce as many antioxidants, but you won't be hungry either.

GUPTA: And somebody said that, it's not that necessarily you live longer, it's just that you feel like you are.

BUETTNER: Yes, right. Exactly.

GUPTA: We have a lot of -- yes, right. We got e-mail questions, questions from our e-mail inbox to both of you.

Our viewer Ron in Florida asked this question: is there an optimum amount of exercise for longevity?

I think this question, Dr. Hall, because I think it's interesting. Maybe it's basic but we think about exercise to look good, so the clothes fit better, to be fit. But say somebody just want to live longer. That's all I really want. What do you say to that?

HALL: Well, most common way that question comes to me is, OK, I believe in this exercise thing, Dr. Hall, but what's the very least I can do and still get the benefits? So what I usually tell them is about a half hour a day of vigorous exercise at least five days a week.

GUPTA: What counts? I mean -- brisk walking? Are you talking about gardening?

HALL: Almost anything counts. And this will, I think, deserve some of the males in the audience, but one of the best overall exercises is actually using the vacuum cleaner.

GUPTA: Cut. I hope my wife's not watching. OK. I want to get to another e-mail quickly. And I'm really curious about both of your takes on this. This is Beata in Illinois, who asked this: what is the one thing I can do today to help me live longer?

Dan, I mean, that's the $64,000 question. And it goes back to what you're saying about shortcuts. You know, what can I do -- the one thing -- is there a one thing?

BUETTNER: We found nine in the blue zone, but if I had to recommend one, and this is going to sound sexy, but if you go through the list of people you know and you put a little star by the names of people who eat right, who do physical activity for recreation, who are engaged and care about you, who have spiritual component, that will do more than any one thing, because, as your mother said, you are known by the company you keep. Well, doctors are increasingly saying that you live as the company you keep as well.

GUPTA: That's interesting. And Dr. Hall, what do you think? What do you tell your patients?

HALL: As a geriatrician, I deal with older people. And I tell them you have to know yourself. You have to know what your needs are. You have to have a pretty good idea of what your aspirations are. People don't often think about that as they get older. So it's getting a handle on who you are, not what you do in your life, who you are is important.

GUPTA: I absolutely agree with that. You know, the sense of purpose that you have. I think you talked about in this as well. (INAUDIBLE) guy, they call it in Japanese, a sense of purpose that you have every day that you wake up.

Stick with us, guys. Really good stuff here. After researching and traveling so much, learn what our guests do differently to live a longer, happier, healthier life. Here's a clue from the new movie called "Young At Heart" featuring an 80-something rock choir.

Take a look.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Singing does a lot to your whole body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got a lot of life. That's what we have. A lot of life.



GUPTA: Take a look at that. This is me now. This forensic age progression (INAUDIBLE) shows how I might look if I'm lucky enough to reach the century mark. My wife is pretty lucky, huh? I don't -- she still wants to stay married to that guy.

But I still got my teeth. What do you make of that?

BUETTNER: We -- you know, we interviewed 258 Centenarians for this book, and one of the regrets that most of them had was they wish they had taken care of their teeth more during their lives so.

GUPTA: I think you just sent an important message to a lot of our viewers out there. Go brush those teeth after breakfast this morning.

We are here with Dan Buettner, thank you, welcome back, and Dr. William Hall from the University of Rochester.

As part of that special, I did a life expectancy calculator. It's You can go there yourself. And they calculated my life expectancy to be around 81-years-old. I got to tell you, I was a little disappointed. You know, I think it's like taking a test. You want 100, of course, or even higher. But have you ever done that, Dan? Your taking a life expectancy calculator?

BUETTNER: We actually built one, a vitality compass, we called it. Mine came out to be 93.

GUPTA: That's pretty good. What do you think gave you the added benefits?

BUETTNER: You know, there's a few things I've changed since researching these Centenarians is that I'm a big believer in moving naturally as oppose to exercise programs. De-conveniencing your house, like I got rid of the remotes so every time I want to turn on the TV or channel I have to get up and change. I moved up to the third floor of my house. I got rid of the snow blower and got a snow shovel so every time it snows, it's a work out. You got to think about it, but it adds up.

GUPTA: Right. Right.

And Dr. Hall, I know you told us that you are doing triathlons. Is this something you took up lately?

HALL: Very much so. Very much so. About five years ago.

GUPTA: Was there some (INAUDIBLE) or inspiration for that?

HALL: I have been very much interested in the healthy part of the aging process. And the whole idea of exercise is just so central to longevity, and particularly successful longevity that it seemed like the right thing to do.

GUPTA: What was -- so is there something you changed about your own life with all that you've learned, talking to all the patients you have spoken to?

HALL: I try to reduce some stress in my life, which I think is important, and to see what my purpose is of this particular phase of my life. I have a Medicare card now and Social Security card, but I'm still working full-time. And so that's been one of the big things that I've done.

But I also moderate that with a diet and been very familiar to Dan from his work. My first medical practice actually was with southern Japan when I was out of residency. So I had the advantage of knowing about a different diet. And diet and exercise and stress management are my keys.

GUPTA: You know, it's amazing, this topic is so popular with our viewers. Everyone wants the answers to some of these questions. So I thank you both for joining us, helping to explain some -- good luck with the book.

BUETTNER: Thank you very much.

GUPTA: Dr. Hall, thank you for being here as well.

Really, really important stuff.

Now, if you're a parent at home, it's virtually inevitable. You're probably going to need to take your child to the emergency room at some point or another, but many families end up at the wrong one. Why where you go make such a huge difference? We'll have that after this.


GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. Here's something you may not know. Not every emergency room is treated the same. So imagine rushing your children to the E.R. only to find there's no pediatrician or the equipment is not suited for a small person. So Elizabeth Cohen is here to help us become more empowered patients.

How do you know what's the best E.R. for your child? Not that you always have the best choice, necessarily, in an emergency, but how do you know?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, you and I are lucky because we live in the city with two great children's hospitals.

GUPTA: Right.

COHEN: So if one of our kids had to go to the emergency room, it's no brainer where you take them. So we're lucky. But most of the country is not that lucky. There isn't a children's hospital right there. And so you have to do detective work to find out which hospital is best suited to treat children, because I want to introduce you to a child who did not a have great experience.

Her name is Julian Grana (ph). It's this little girl right here. And at 9 months old Julian had an asthma attack and her mother took her to the nearest emergency room, which she thought was the best thing to do.

It turned out that the mask they used for Julian's Nebulizer to get her her meds it was the size for an adult. You can imagine an adult-sized mask on a 9-month-old baby. It didn't work very well. When they went to take her blood pressure, the cuff was meant for an adult. So it really is important. And on our column -- we have a Web site you can go to to find an E.R. that delivers services, emergency services for kids.

GUPTA: That's a scary proposition for any parent when you think about this. We both have small children. Now that you've gotten to the E.R., how do you make sure your child is getting the best care possible?

COHEN: Right. Once you go to our Web site, you put your zip code in and you find the hospital that's going to be best for your child. There are a couple things you need to remember before you go to the E.R., before you have an emergency, what you need to do, first of all, is go to our column.

You will see that we have a link to a place where you can fill in the blanks, all the medication that your child takes. It's made to fold up, the form fits in your wallet. You can have it with you at all times. And the other thing that they have on and that we have in our column is a link to a place where you can put a health history in for your child if your child has health problems.

And it's best to do this beforehand. Have it in a place where it's always at the ready to hand to the doctor or nurse in the emergency room.

GUPTA: That's a really good advice. People don't always do the planning ahead of time. So that's important.

Good stuff, as always, Elizabeth.

COHEN: Thanks.

GUPTA: Thank you very much.

And you can check out more of Elizabeth's columns as well at

Coming up, the answers to your medical questions in our "Ask the Doctor" segment.


GUPTA: Well, it's time for our segment called "Ask the Doctor." It's my favorite segment. We hit the streets to find out the medical questions on your minds.

Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alzheimer's is a big disease right that everybody is looking at. What are the means of preventing Alzheimer's?


GUPTA: That's a great question. You should know that Alzheimer's affects almost 27 million people in the United States and is often marked by social withdrawal, memory loss, sleep changes, and problems with concentration. So right now there are no proven ways to prevent the disease, but the Alzheimer's Association does recommend specific things.

Number one, stay socially engaged. It turns out that mental activity is a great way to keep your brain cells healthy. Number two, get moving. Exercise actually reduces your risk of diabetes and cardio events that can be risk factors for dementia. It also provides healthy blood flow to the brain. It stimulates the growth of new brain cells.

Number three, you probably all heard the term "food for thought." There's growing evidence that suggests that antioxidants in dark vegetables like kale, spinach, beets and broccoli and fruits like prunes, raisins and cherries, they may protect your brain.

You know, we've also been talking about the relationship between Alzheimer's and depression. Many of you wrote to us concerned that you heard major depression increases your chance of developing Alzheimer's.

But keep in mind something important. Around five percent of people develop Alzheimer's between the ages of 65 and 74. So while depression will increase your chances, it doesn't mean you are going to develop Alzheimer's for sure.

Unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast online at

Thanks for watching as always.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Stay tuned now for more news on CNN.