What’s Their Secret? - Alcohol, caffeine and doughnuts are among their don’ts. Their dos: plenty of fiber and exercise. The Pinkstons have 160 years of clean living between them.


In 1983, the life expectancy for women in the United States was 78 years old. For men, it was 71. Today, although there are no firm figures, those persons aged 85 and older make up the fastest - growing group in the nation.

--Dr. Loren G. Lipson, chief of Geriatric Medicine, USC.


Marion and Myron Pinkston sometimes wonder what life will be like when they get old.

At age 80, they have scarcely been sick in their lives. During his 40-year career as a salesman, Myron never missed a day. He still has most of his teeth and hasn’t had a cold or a headache in five years.

Myron spends his days tending the couple’s vegetable garden, where 12 prolific tomato bushes, green beans, eggplant and green peppers are grown. Occasionally, he takes on a woodcrafting job in the workshop he built for himself nearly 30 years ago.

He recently fashioned four bookcases for a friend in just six weeks. Before that, he designed cedar chests for his three granddaughters.

Most of Marion’s time is devoted to maintaining the nutritional quality of their diets. She clips recipes and studies publications that provide health information, which she translates into the couple’s daily living.

The Los Angeles couple leads a sober life. They get plenty of rest, about eight hours each night, and exercise regularly. Their diet is varied and balanced.

The Pinkstons are Mormons.

“As church people, we are very health conscious,” said Myron. “We’ve never had tobacco, alcohol, coffee or tea because our religion restricts us from anything that is addictive.”

Researchers continue to search for a link between the tenets of the Mormon church and the low cancer-mortality rate among its members. A study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that Mormons experience lower rates of breast and colon cancer, but noted that a dietary connection hasn’t been established.

The stronger hypothesis, cancer experts postulate, is that a reduced-stress lifestyle is responsible.

Whichever is the case, the Pinkstons take advantage of both virtues.

“We respect the wishes of the church. . . . Our eating habits were set by our mothers,” Marion said.

“We’re used to plain, simple meals. I think we exercise enough and we sleep well. Neither of us has had much time to think about ourselves. We just live day to day.”

In most ways, they aren’t much different from most people their age. Their appetites aren’t as strong as they once were, and they don’t hear as well as they used to. And despite their superb physical condition, health for the bespectacled duo is still a critical issue.

Health experts agree that since the aging process is inevitable, an emphasis on good health and better nutrition can, at the very minimum, make life during the Golden Years more pleasant. The Pinkstons follow this philosophy as well.

Although neither of them follows the type of medically supervised diets commonly prescribed at this age group, good nutrition is important to them. She keeps a watchful eye on their fiber intake, making sure they eat at least four servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They drink about a quart of nonfat milk daily.

“The fiber fad made a lot of sense and changed my approach to menu planning,” said Marion, who gives their menus a fiber boost by grinding wheat herself for use in the bread they consume.

Her “health loaf” combines all-purpose, freshly ground wheat and rye flours with oats, wheat germ, honey, marmalade, almond extract and nonfat milk.

The Pinkstons nibble on fresh fruit or half a diet wafer when afternoon hunger pangs strike. Marion says it helps to reduce the fat they eat and at the same time satisfies her insatiable sweet tooth.

She also likes to snack on dry breakfast cereals for between-meal treats, and Myron nibbles on popcorn.

Neither of them eats any packaged bakery products. “Doughnuts are out ,” says Marion .

Turkey and chicken make up most of the protein in their diets, although they do enjoy lean beef twice a week. Homemade soup, made from leftover roast and full of garden-fresh vegetables, is a particular favorite.

The greatest flaw in their diet, they say, is that they probably eat too much cheese. But since their diet is otherwise balanced, says Marion, “We don’t worry too much about it.”

Marion recently, conducted a day-long nutrition symposium for her church, during which she enlightened the “younger girls--the ones between the ages of 65 and 75,"--on health concerns ranging from increasing their intake of fish rich in omega-3 fatty acid to the importance of getting more fiber in their diets. She baked tofu-cakes for the participants and distributed handouts, which she clipped from newspapers and magazines.

Surprisingly, none of the typical declines that occur as the body ages--high blood pressure, a rise in blood cholesterol level, a slower metabolism, joint stiffness, gum disease, bone dismantling, reduced mental acuity or digestive problems--appear to effect Myron.

“He has a real stubborn streak about getting sick,” his wife bragged. “He must make five trips a day, minimum, up the hill to his workshop. Sometimes he comes down just to talk to me while he waits for the glue (on his projects) to dry.”

Marion has had similar good fortune with her health. Although 90% of the women in this country her age suffer from osteoporosis--a disease that makes bones brittle and often curves the spine--she shows no signs of it. Her physician says she’s “amazing” because she has a good heart beat, modest blood pressure, low cholesterol and a straight back.

They don’t take medication of any sort, another problem for the elderly. “I never have,” Myron boasts, “and I hope I never will.”