Activists live longer

Leon Lefson is an active and progressive nonagenarian

People ask me how I do it. I’m 90 years old but feel most of the time like a 50-year-old.

There’s no mystery about it. First and foremost, it helps to have inherited good genes. I probably got them from my grandparents, so choose your ancestors carefully!

My parents died relatively young by today’s standards: my father at 54 from an accident, and my mother at 61. I’m convinced her death resulted from the burdens of raising 10 children in a poverty-stricken family. Family planning was a dim prospect in those days.

Beyond genes, what else? A balanced diet and some exercise every day. If you work on the sixth floor, walk up and down the steps coming and going. Take the bus or walk instead of driving to your job. My wife and I agreed when we first moved to Sacramento many years ago that we would remain a one-car family as a matter of principle—for all the reasons, environmental and otherwise most of us are aware of—even though we were both employed. So I commuted to work by bus for the 25 years I was with the state. No sweat.

But the most important factor in my longevity, I firmly believe, after genes and lifestyle, was an early interest in local, state and national affairs—and learning how to think critically. I concluded that the major decisions we make in our lives are greatly influenced by political decisions made in Sacramento, Washington and other capitals of the world.

I began to read, beyond the establishment press, publications such as The Nation, The Progressive, Harper’s, Mother Jones and, yes, SN&R, which made its appearance much later in my lifetime. I began to learn what made our system really tick, why war and its terrible consequences seem to be endemic within that system and why it needs to be changed if our beautiful planet is to survive for the benefit of future generations.

So I say get involved early in life. Join an organization committed to peace, social justice, democracy and human rights—or any issue-related group that appeals to you.

That’s my simple formula for living to a ripe old age.