Feature Archive

Bob Hope Dies: Is There Hope for Us?

Genetics Counts in Longevity; Lifestyle Does, Too

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Brunilda Nazario

I met Bob Hope in the Palm Springs airport. That was years ago; he must have been in his 80s back then. It was like running into an elderly uncle -- that familiar face, the friendly talk. The star persona -- he must have ditched it in some backstage dressing room. He was nice.

But now, just past his 100th birthday, Bob Hope has died. Why do some people live to such a ripe old age? Is there hope for the rest of us?

Indeed, an estimated 77,000 people are now age 100 and over, says Robert E. Roush, EdD, MPH, a professor of geriatrics at the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor University School of Medicine in Houston.

By 2050, that number should reach 1 million, he tells WebMD. In fact, even the number of "supercentenarians" -- those 105 and over -- is growing by leaps and bounds, says Roush. "The big question is, 'Will we be one of them?'

"If you're a gambling man, I'd gamble on living long," he says.

Upping Your Odds

Genetics. Bob Hope likely had genetics on his side: One grandfather lived past 100. None of the "big three" killers -- heart disease, cancer, a bad car wreck -- cut short his life. To some extent, genetics drive heart problems and cancer, says Roush.

Smoking and alcohol. "We never saw him smoke -- that cut his risk of heart disease and cancer," Roush says.

Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol also may have increased his life. A couple of glasses of wine or beer daily cuts the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Studies have shown that alcohol can make blood platelets less "sticky," which contributes to a healthy heart.

In fact, abstaining from alcohol carries its own risks -- upping them about the same as drinking too much, Roush tells WebMD.

Stable relationship. Hope and Dolores were married in 1933 and stayed together until he died -- a stable bond that also increases men's longevity, studies show (but doesn't increase women's years).

Laughter. Hope's greatest gift -- his sense of humor -- helped him cope with stress, Roush says. "People who have a good outlook on life and laugh a lot live longer. They also have a wide circle of friends who give them support."

Eating habits. Whether Bob kept to the straight and narrow in this category, we have no idea. But eating healthy keeps people healthy. So paying attention to what you eat -- keeping red meat, saturated fats, and calories to a minimum -- will help keep health problems at bay, says Roush.

Exercise. Even a good walk around the golf course will help keep you healthy if you do it often enough. Gardening, mowing the lawn, walking when you can, or taking a few flights of stairs daily keeps the ticker in good working order.

Keep your mind active. Hope worked into his 80s and even made appearances in his 90s. Keep cultivating interests -- it will help you stave off dementia, says Roush.

Roush's other tips:

Plan now, so you'll be financially stable if you do live so long. In fact, buy long-term care insurance while you're young, when rates are low, he says. "I hate to harp on this, but it's true -- a good nursing home is expensive, in-home care can be expensive. You need to plan now in case you need it."

Also, accept life as it comes, Roush adds. "My own father is going to be 87, and he's the most content person I know. He doesn't want anything. He doesn't care about buying a BMW or some other toy. He's perfectly content, living out his years with in-home healthcare. What he needs doesn't take whole lot of money. We should all be that content."

Published July 28, 2003.

SOURCE: Robert E. Roush, EdD, MPH, professor of geriatrics, Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor University School of Medicine in Houston.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/31/2005 6:34:28 AM

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