Book Review of Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying)

Bill Gifford

Actually, I felt like the “die trying” part was kicking in pretty well at the gym this morning, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

I just finished reading Bill Gifford’s book Spring Chicken: Stay Young Forever (or Die Trying) (hence the book review), and I must say I was impressed.

I think I picked up on this book because it was mentioned in some article I read a few weeks ago. Anyway, a copy was available at my local library so I checked it out to “check it out.”

Gifford has an easy and humorous writing style, so most folks could probably burn through the book in a few days depending on how fast they read and how long each reading session is.

The book’s title is a bit of a misnomer in that it really doesn’t teach you “tips” and “secrets” about how to live longer, at least that’s not the main goal. Gifford goes through the wide panorama of scientific (and other) research being done on human (and lab animal) longevity, what seems to work, what doesn’t, and stuff that some people do that’s just plain nuts.

This author also put himself through as many of the methods he writes about as were reasonable (and some that weren’t, like jumping into the cold Pacific Ocean at Half Moon Bay for an early morning dip…brrr and risk of instant heart attack).

You could probably learn the same information presented in the book if you were an avid reader of health journals and popular magazines, but Gifford collects all the relevant data between the covers of a single book, so it’s pretty convenient.

The last part of the book, before the Acknowledgments, Notes and Sources, and Index, was an Appendix called “Things That Might Work”. Actually, in Gifford’s opinion, many of them don’t work, at least in human beings. One example is Resveratrol, which seems to work well in improving the health of mice and monkeys but not so much in people, especially since we’d have to ingest a massive amount of it in order to have any show up in our blood stream.

Both Red Wine and Coffee have some benefits, taken in moderation, which makes me pretty happy.

Gifford writes that Curcumin 2K with Black Pepper Extract, which I take regularly, can be beneficial, but revealed that I might not be taking enough of it because it suffers from “bioavailability” problems. In other words, like resveratrol, you have to take a ton of it in order to get it into your blood stream (eating a dish with Indian curry might be more effective if you could consume a big enough meal).

Vitamin D seems to be somewhat effective, but it’s tough to find foods that contain significant amounts of it (which is why, back in the day, kids were force-fed cod-liver oil to beat back a bone disease called rickets).

People tend to get their vitamin D from exposure to moderate levels of sunlight, but most of us walk around vitamin D deficient on a regular basis. Too bad, because it contributes to increased bone density and muscle strength (I’ve gotta get me some), and may protect people from certain kinds of cancer as well as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.


Aspirin and Ibuprofen (but not acetaminophen) made the list but there was one more entry that looks quite promising and you’ve probably never heard of (I know I hadn’t).

Metformin is a drug that’s considered the first line of defense against Type 2 Diabetes, particularly with overweight and obese people (it’s sold under the brand name Glucophage among others).

Potentially, this medication can reduce glucose production in the liver, reduce the incidence of heart disease and cancer, and improve cognitive functioning. It is also one of the few drugs that has been shown to extend the lifespan in healthy mice (but that’s mice, not humans).

I don’t know (and neither does Gifford) if it’s the miracle drug that will keep us living longer and younger, but it seems to have the best shot of anything on the list (and I should mention at this point that you should do your own research and talk with trusted medical professionals before starting up on any drug…Disclaimer alert!).

Gifford’s bottom line, if you want “the secret to living longer,” is “use it or lose it.” That goes back to not only getting regular physical exercise (some sort of moving around) but “mental” exercise as well (read more, work on crossword puzzles, that sort of thing).

Which brings me to how things went at the gym today. I must say that I was off my game. I woke up rather loggy and it didn’t go away, even with coffee, water, and a banana. The indigestion I suffered from eating the banana too close to my workout didn’t help things, either.

I approached the squat rack feeling intimidated and, as it turns out, with good reason. Since I felt I should take it (relatively) easy, I made sure I rested 120 seconds or more between sets, and rest plus work consumed my entire hour in the weight room.

Barbell Back Squats in Squat Rack

4x 160lbs/72.5748kg
4x 185lbs/83.9146kg
4x 215lbs/97.5224kg
4x 215lbs/97.5224kg

Barbell Close Grip Bench Press

4x 115lbs/52.1631kg
4x 125lbs/56.699kg
4x 145lbs/65.7709kg
4x 145lbs/65.7709kg

Photo credit:

Barbell Bent Leg Deadlift

4x 175lbs/79.3787kg
4x 205lbs/92.9864kg
4x 235lbs/106.594kg
5x 235lbs/106.594kg (Bonus Rep)
4x 240lbs/108.862kg (Bonus Set)

Overhead Barbell Press

6x 65lbs/29.4835kg
6x 70lbs/31.7515kg
4x 75lbs/34.0194kg
4x 75lbs/34.0194kg

Barbell Curl

8x 65lbs/29.4835kg
6x 75lbs/34.0194kg
5x 85lbs/38.5554kg
5x 85lbs/38.5554kg

My warm up sets of squats seemed OK except it’s still tough to get as low as I’d like. I think I discovered why when I did my working sets. In the first working set coming up from the third rep, I lost my balance and tilted forward, fortunately catching myself against the rack. I made myself do the fourth rep and then took a couple of minutes to recover before making my attempt at my last set.

I felt my balance beginning to “go” as I got lower into each squat during my final set, so I’m thinking there’s some problem with my form, although I can’t see it in the mirror.

I did see another guy doing squats in the rack later on that gave me an idea for how to improve. He’s a younger guy, probably mid to late 30s, who was using a 95 pound barbell for squats. That’s really light for him. But he had dragged a bench into the rack and as he performed each squat, he’d let his rear get low enough to touch the bench, like he was going to sit on it, before he moved back up.

I don’t think that would be such a good idea with a heavy barbell, but if I wait until the beginning of my third circuit in week one where the weights are lighter, I might give it a try.

I was hoping to squat 225 pounds in week five, but given the problems I’m having with a 215 barbell in the squat rack, the most I think I should risk next week is 220, and even that might be pushing it. 215 pounds was my working weight for squats at the end of my first lifting circuit, but I suspect that this is either approaching the maximum weight I can do for squats, or I need to adjust my form if I intend to go heavier.

After my experience in the squat rack, it was almost a relief to move on to close grip presses. I was already feeling kind of fatigued after the squats, and as I mentioned above, I was less than optimal before I stepped foot in the gym this morning.

Photo credit:

Anyway, I decided not to push it and just did what was required, which was plenty at my working weight.

If my goal weight for squats is 225 pounds, two big metal “wheels” on each side of the barbell, my goal for deadlifts is 250. However, as I got into it, I realized that 250 pounds was not going to be reasonable today and probably not next week either.

I did my two warm up sets and my first working set as planned, but as I finished my fourth rep in my second working set, I felt like I had a little more left in me, and so I did a fifth rep.

Having accomplished that, but realizing 250 pounds was very likely out of reach, I nudged the weight up another five pounds and deadlifted the 240 pound barbell for four reps.

By this time, sweat is streaming all over the inside and outside of my t-shirt, and I’m dripping all over the bench and floor (yes, I wiped up the bench when I was done).

At round one, week five, my working weight for deadlifts at 3 reps per set was 235 pounds, and I did a bonus set for 3 reps at 240, so this is as heavy a barbell as I’ve ever pulled off of the floor.

I was beat after all that and tempted to pass on the overhead press and standing curls, but I didn’t want to crap out just because I was tired.

For my two working sets at the overhead press, I did 6 reps each and felt pretty good about it. However, a working weight of 75 pounds just about kicked my butt. I almost stalled about halfway through the first rep but managed to push the bar all the way to the top. It was like that pretty much for each working rep.

Curls went better. I managed 8 reps for the first warm up set and 6 for the next, then did 5 reps each for both working sets, with my face turning beet red for the last rep in each set.

And that was that. 60 minutes had passed. I was out of time and well done. No hanging exercises, no bonus zercher squats, nada. I just wanted to make it home, suck down a protein drink, and recover.

I can’t say I covered myself with glory, but at least I got done what I’d planned and just a wee bit more.

LouOh, remember the Lou Ferrigno Incredible Hulk Change t-shirt I purchased last month? I’ve been tracking it via UPS and it looks like they’ve handed off to the local USPS office for delivery today (it was originally scheduled for delivery tomorrow).

I’ll wear it to the gym on Friday and hopefully at some point, I can convince my son to come to the gym and take a photo of me wearing it while lifting. Maybe I’ll even post a copy on Lou’s Facebook page for the heck of it.

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Will Durant


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