In the movie Sleeper, Miles Monroe runs a health food store in Manhattan. He becomes ill and his friends have him cryogenically frozen in 1973. The movie opens 200 years later, and Miles is being revived by scientists. As he awakens they put something into his mouth and tell him to draw it deeply down into his lungs. He starts to cough and asks what it is, and they answer, “Tobacco, it is the best thing for you.”

(Note: This is a Woody Allen movie made before Allen went off the rails and started making movies that are totally unwatchable.)

What does this have to do with my interest in positive psychology and enhancing our potential? I saw it when I was young, and it traumatized me, so that now I cannot hear of a scientific finding without some skepticism.

But I never imagined I would question the Free Radical hypothesis. That is, when an atom has a single unpaired electron in the outer shell, it becomes highly reactive. Hydrogen peroxide is a free radical molecule, and if you ever poured it on a wound, you know from personal experience that it is highly reactive. Free radical theory says that aging is a result of free radical damage at the level of the genome. Yeast, fruit flies, and mice live longer when free radicals are quenched.

But a new study < > argues that at least in roundworms, higher levels of free radicals (superoxice dismutate) actually increases lifespan of the worms, while quenching free radicals shortens it.

So what? We aren’t yeasts, mice, or roundworms. What does this have to do with human progress? Well, adding molecules to quench free radicals (i.e., vitamins) to diet hasn’t had any success at lengthening human life span. On the other hand, increasing activity will actually increase your life span by keeping the telomeres longer, or at least slowing their process of shortening. <>  A study followed thousands of people, including identical twins, and found that the more one exercises, the longer the telomeres are. <>

Telomeres are important predictors of how long one will live, so whether you want to increase or decrease your superoxide dismutase (depending on whether you are a mouse or a roundword), certainly a good deal of exercise will help you significantly. We already know that exercise is surely as helpful as an antidepressant at treating a low mood, and all you need for that effect is to walk for about thirty minutes a day, or sixty minutes at least three times a week. <>

Take vitamins? Maybe. Exercise? No question about it. Raises mood and preserves your health. I had a Brittany Spaniel who used to run 4 – 8 miles a day with me, before my knees got arthritis and I had to quit running. She lived for nineteen years. Toward the end my mother thought we should put her out of her misery, but she maintained a very good quality of life until her last year. So she was pretty healthy for around 18 years, longer than most dogs last. I could never tell if she was in a good or bad mood; she was a spartan dog who didn’t believe in showing her feelings. But she was always good for a walk or a run.

Get out today and walk for a while.