David Walliams: “My biological age is beyond that of my years”

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webnexttech | David Walliams: "My biological age is beyond that of my years"
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I first realised I was unfit when I joined secondary school.Once a year we had to take part in the dreaded cross-country run.
The overweight boys like me would always be left behind.
So, we made a pact to walk the course instead.
The rest of the boys had already got changed and was waiting by the finish line, jeering us as we came into sight – at which point we all burst into a sprint to avoid being the last one.
That was the ultimate humiliation.
It was the Eighties: a merciless time.
Food has always been a solace and a refuge for me.
Speaking about bulimia, Princess Diana came up with one of the most powerful evocations of comfort eating: “like two arms wrapping themselves around you”.
When I had a bad day at school, I was more likely to eat ten biscuits that evening instead of two.
This is why being overweight is often a chronic condition: you are finding comfort in the very thing that is making your situation worse.
But food is also one of the great joys of life.
I have a 10-year-old son and we like to eat together.
Food that 10-year-olds like: roast chicken, pasta, steak and chips.
It’s not the healthiest, but it makes us happy.
Now I am 52, and despite my sedentary lifestyle writing books and scripts, I try to keep fit.
I walk my dogs, swim and go the gym a few times a week.
But I still eat too much.
Some might say that I overindulge.
One such person is Dr David Sinclair, a brilliant scientist at the forefront of the longevity movement, which has gained serious momentum these past few years.
I was introduced to David by my two-bearded friend Evgeny as part of his podcast, Brave New World, and volunteered to take part in an experiment that would identify where my big wobbly body needed help.
I thought, naively, that I was going to be banned from drinking Diet Coke and told to maybe gym a bit more.
Not so.
Through the tracking technology he has honed over the years, Dr Sinclair revealed that my biological age was beyond that of my actual years.
A few years, which shocked me.
Among the myriad diagnoses, he discovered I had the lowest testosterone levels he’d ever seen in a male patient, which is hardly surprising given I’ve made a career out of wearing dresses.
He prescribed me a supplement derived from a plant native to South America.
I am yet to turn into Jason Statham, but I did feel I had more energy.
One of the lifestyle changes which Dr Sinclair recommended was to prioritise plant-based foods – in other words, to go vegan.
I’m not a particularly good cook, and find the idea of eliminating cheese, butter and eggs too restrictive.
So I didn’t do it.
But the main reason precluding me from going vegan was my son, and the fact that I wanted to enjoy our meals together.
I cook for him every night.
Alfred is ten and growing up in a generation more concerned with health and the environment than we were.
If he turns around one day and says: “Dad, I want to become a vegan,” I will gladly do so with him.
As such, that day has yet to come: and I will continue to enjoy my bacon sandwiches for as long as I possibly can.
Obviously, I know such indulgence will not last forever.
My father was only 71 when he died of liver cancer, and I too have the hemochromatosis that killed him.
I have too much iron in my blood, and untreated it would be a ticking time bomb.
Sadly, I know several people in their eighties struggling with serious mobility issues, have witnessed a close friend die of dementia and have another whose leg was recently amputated.
Getting old can be brutal.
So I understand the appeal of the longevity movement.
And I applaud the scientists like Dr Sinclair finding new ways to undo the damage we’ve done to our bodies.
But I don’t believe restriction and self-deprivation is the answer.
For me, taking charge of one’s health is all about finding a balance, and remembering it’s not one size fits all.
Case in point: Mick Jagger has more energy at 80 than I ever did at 21.
What lifestyle changes are you prepared to do while still enjoying the life you have?
That, to me, is the question.
You have to ask yourself whether you’d actually enjoy living a really, really long time, and what that entails.
Seeing many of your friends die before you?
Working way past the current retirement age?
Your pension drying up and living your final years in poverty?
These are bleak prospects, but they are part and parcel with a reality in which some can afford the benefits of longevity science, and other cannot.
Longevity is a luxury.
Take Bryan Adams, 64, who looks about 40.
Not an ounce of fat on his perfectly chiselled physique.
I went to his studio a few times as he is not just a highly successful musician, but also a hugely talented photographer.
At lunch a chef served us the most delicious vegan food, which I happily devoured.
But if you didn’t write ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It for You’, having a private chef is probably unthinkable.
A vegan diet is a big adaptation, and hard to sustain for the weak-willed like me.
I think it’ll be a while before the innovations developed by Dr Sinclair make it to the mainstream.
As such it is impossible for me to picture a world in which the NHS starts offering a biological age test to all over the age of fifty.
That’s not what the NHS is there for.
There is a difference between saving life and prolonging life.
Plus, it doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing which the average person would want to embrace anyway.
We must be realistic.
Many enjoy smoking and drinking; some enjoy taking drugs.
Not many people like working towards the “perfect” version of themselves: they find it too difficult or time-consuming, or perhaps they just don’t care enough.
It feels like a penance to spend your entire life adhering to your own strict rules about everything you eat and drink.
It’s boring too.
We should want to optimise our health so as to live longer, but only in order to continue doing the things that we love.
A few years before he died at the age of 90, my late friend the legendary composer Leslie Bricusse told me he had just driven down the Loire Valley on holiday with Roger Moore, Michael Caine, and their wives, stopping only at Michelin Star restaurants.
If ageing means having longer to do enjoy such pleasures, then that’s something I can truly get behind.
None of us know what fate has in store for us, but the work of Dr Sinclair and others means there is a strong chance of a longer life for the privileged few.
Perhaps in time, the numbers will swell, and it will become mainstream.
Do I want to be live to a hundred?
I don’t think so.
But ask me again when I am ninety-nine.
Click here to listen to exclusive interviews with David Walliams and Stephen Fry on Evgeny Lebedev’s podcast, Brave New World.
Or search ‘Brave New World Evening Standard’ in your podcast provider.

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