04/10/2013 03:42 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2013

Dare to Be 100: Guts and Smarts

My wonderful daughter, Gretchen, loves her father a lot. So it was with some astonishment that I heard, "Daddy, you talk too much. Your tongue has verbal diarrhea, too much froth but not enough pith."

At the time, she was a news reporter for a top San Francisco radio station. It was great fun to turn the dial and hear your daughter telling of the latest fire or earthquake. As such, she parsed every syllable.

"But I am a medical professor. I am supposed to talk a lot. My job description mandates a lot of blabber." I pondered an adequate response to her critique. I squeezed and twisted and finally responded: "Honey, I've got it. I have compressed all my books and chapters and paragraphs down into 13 letters, 3 Ss ,2 As, 2 Ts, a G, a U, a N, an M, an R, and a D -- GUTSANDSMARTS.

"Good, Daddy. That's a good sound bite."

You've got to have guts to grow old
To claim life you have to be bold.
But you must be smart as well as have heart
If you want your whole tale to be told.

Courage and intelligence, well used, will get you to 100, without potions, doctors or big medical bills.

In my experience, every single person who has mastered the great art of successful aging has had an inner grit. Not necessarily with any bravado or flourish, but with a steely determination to look loss straight in the face without blinking. Dad taught me that you grow against adversity. A redwood tree puts on a few more inches of height when the gale blows. Nietzche said, "that which does not kill makes us stronger." You need guts to grow old.

But you must be smart too. Smart people live longer.

This is not book learning smart or even advanced degrees. But it is the intelligence to read the manual that displays the avalanche of new science that describes how most human ailment is preventable by simple lifestyle readjustment. To me, health illiteracy is the world's biggest killer, not heart disease, cancer, AIDS or malaria. When we learn to read the manual of health instead of our current preoccupation with disease, our collective reach toward 100 healthy years will be realized.

"Yes, Gretchen, it all comes down to guts and smarts."