90-Year-Old Billionaire David Murdock Doles Out Advice on Longevity
The chairman of Dole Foods plans to live to 125 — and he believes you can, too
Sherri Snelling, executive director at Keck Medicine of USC and author of A Cast of Caregivers – Celebrity Stories to Help You Prepare to Care, is a nationally recognized expert on America’s 65 million family caregivers with special emphasis on how to help caregivers balance “self-care” while caring for a loved one.
In the early 1980s, about the same time Murdock bought a controlling interest in the conglomerate of which Dole was a part, his wife, Gabriele, was ill with advanced-stage ovarian cancer. The couple spent nearly two years traveling the world seeking information about potential cures. After Gabriele died in 1985, at age 43, Murdock stuck with many of the healthy lifestyle habits the couple discovered during their quest. (Murdock also lost his mother to cancer, when he was 17 and she was 42.)
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Murdock, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to be $2.4 billion, has also committed more than $500 million toward the creation of the North Carolina Research Campus and David H. Murdock Research Institute in Kannapolis, N.C. There, researchers from government, industry, non-profit groups and eight universities can take advantage of advanced technology and agricultural resources to collaborate on studies that explore the potential health benefits of plants in boosting longevity and warding off what the institute calls "lifestyle-related disorders," like diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. The campus also supports public campaigns to promote healthy choices.
Healthy Eating at 90 and Beyond
Murdock, who has stuck to a mostly vegetarian diet since he was in his 60s, believes it's never too late for any of us to reap the benefits of adopting healthy nutritional habits. He eats approximately 20 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, mostly blended into smoothies, which he's quick to note are made with the foods' outer skin intact. Nothing the sun touches, he says, including banana peels and orange rinds, should be tossed, but blended into our meals for full nutritional value.
The mogul says he avoids vitamins and nutritional supplements, deriving an adequate balance of protein and carbohydrates from such foods as fish, beans, legumes and egg whites. Above all, he rejects fatty, empty calories. During one interview with The New York Times, he pushed away the butter dish delivered by a waiter, telling him, "Please take death off the table."
I recently met with Murdock at the California Health and Longevity Institute in the Southern California town of Westlake Village, a state-of-the-art spa, medical clinic and demonstration kitchen he opened in 2006. As he later told me, "We take care of our vehicles – we're careful to put the proper kind of gasoline in the tank, put air in the tires, change the windshield wiper blades and brakes. But how many of us pay that much attention to what we put into our own bodies?
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"We have developed a culture in which we eat with our taste buds, not our brains," he told me. "It is never too late to change the way you eat — once you do, your body will thank you with a longer and healthier life."
Making Every Day a Fit One
When I first heard Murdock speak, at a UCLA Longevity Institute conference, I was intrigued by his prescription that society needs to embrace fun to engage people in consistent exercise. He cited the example of the Volkswagen Fun Theory initiative's "Piano Staircase." In 2009, the stairs to a metro station in Sweden were transformed overnight into piano keys, with each step wired to make the sound of its corresponding note. The day before the switch, video cameras revealed, the vast majority of commuters used the escalator beside the stairway to enter and exit the station. The day after, nearly all took the new, more fun stairs.
Murdock's goal is for all Americans to begin perceiving exercise not as an option or chore, but a pleasant part of their daily life. One way to get there, he says, is by mixing up our routines. Some days, Murdock rides his horses – admittedly not an option for everyone – but he makes sure to alternate riding days with others spent in yoga class or in weight training at his gym. He also believes time outdoors naturally encourages activity and exercise, citing research that revealed many people fail to stick to an exercise regimen because they believe exercise is something that only happens inside a gym.
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Caregiving is one of society's great equalizers. The stress of looking after a loved one who is declining or dying takes a physical, emotional and mental toll no matter the resources you can bring to bear. Murdock knows this from experience, his wife's final years, and he captivates audiences when he speaks at conferences about the time he spent caring for her. But Murdock is also convinced, as are so many experts in family caregiving, that caregivers must never let their own health decline if they want to effectively help their loved ones and remain as strong as possible for themselves.
"Don't give up," he says. "Exercising and eating properly will build your physical and mental strength to endure the stressful situation."
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