Betty White and other seniors share their longevity secrets

Betty White’s secret

Betty White’s recent 90th birthday reminded me of a TV interview I saw a couple of years ago, when she was still just a spry, young 88. The interviewer asked Betty to share her secret for longevity, and she didn’t miss a beat: “Sheer blind luck!”

She got a laugh, as always.

A couple of years ago, a New York Times reporter put that same longevity question to several seniors, and they gave her some pretty good health advice.

Esther, 99, says, “Eat in moderation and drink in moderation.” She adds that regular exercise, walking, and yoga helped.

Phil, 100, keeps his sunny side up: “Enjoy every minute that you’re living. I think that’s some good advice.”

My favorite quote comes from Hazel, 100. Her longevity secret: “There’s no secret about it, really. You just don’t die, and you get to be 100.”

Got to love that. Don’t over-think it. Just keep on living.

A new study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet concludes with some longevity advice that also requires no over-thinking.

The authors write: “This population-based, prospective study of men with relatively high intakes of dietary calcium and magnesium showed that intake of calcium above that recommended daily may reduce all-cause mortality.”

Simple. Calcium plus magnesium works longevity wonders.

Calcium’s better half

At the risk of keeping it not entirely simple, Dr. Spreen offers three rules for supplementing with calcium.

Rule One: As the Karolinska study shows, calcium must have magnesium.

Dr. Spreen: “Calcium without magnesium doesn’t occur in a natural human diet, so it shouldn’t be introduced to the body that way. Calcium alone has been found in several experiments to be improperly laid down in the body, even affecting arterial walls before setting up in bones.

“Unfortunately for those looking for the simplest solutions, the mineral calcium requires more than just magnesium: It also needs manganese, boron, silica, strontium, usually digestive enzymes, often additional betaine hydrochloride, and ALWAYS vitamin D (and high doses of that last one if a lot of calcium is swallowed).”

Rule Two: Forget about antacids

Dr. Spreen describes the form of calcium in antacids simply as a “problem,” noting that this inferior form actually lowers the acid level (pH) in the stomach, which is necessary for digestion of many nutrients and proteins.

Rule three: Know your calcium forms

Dr. Spreen: “Not all calcium salts are absorbed the same, and in some cases there are pretty big differences. However, it’s usually easier to acquire (and cheaper to take, per amount absorbed) in forms that may cost less than the most absorbable types. By just taking a bit more of it, it’s not that big a deal (as long as the other ‘stuff’ is taken with it).”

Dr. Spreen notes that among the commercially available types of calcium, the best marriage of price, percentage of elemental calcium, and absorption is calcium citrate.

Whether you’re concerned about bone health, or just “don’t want to die,” you can read Dr. Spreen’s detailed look at the pros and cons of different calcium forms here.

“From Taft to Obama, Victrola to DVD: Secrets of the Centenarians” Karen Barrow, New York Times, 10/18/10,

“Dietary Calcium and Magnesium Intake and Mortality: A Prospective Study of Men” American Journal of Epidemiology, Published online ahead of print, 2/19/10,

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