The secret to longevity? Exercise, diet — and hormone injections? A man named Dr. Life (really!) explains
Dr. Jeffry Life can kick me in the face. He tells me this at 6 in the morning, before the sun and my eyelids are fully up, before the second-to-last set of his morning weight-lifting routine at a Las Vegas Athletic Club near Summerlin. I’ve been told this before. But never in such a friendly tone — and never from a man in his 70s.
“I never used to be able to kick higher than this,” he says, lifting his foot a few inches above the ground. “But my instructor told me a flexible man is a sexual man. She has a lifelong client now.”
The high kick is the product of Life’s blue belt degree in Tae Kwon Do, something he practices three times a week after work. I should be more surprised by the statement — both the threat to my jaw and some old man practicing martial arts half of every week. But I’ve spent the last few minutes watching Life lift more than my body weight in multiple positions and repetitions, and looking at his weekly exercise regimen. He lifts weights with Rod, his ex-military trainer of four years, who looks like he was born when two Sherman tanks collided.
“This is what we do every morning,” Rod says. “He’s getting better with age, which is contrary to most people.”
The Doc uses pump-up phrases like “Let’s rock ‘n’ roll” when he’s ready for another set. Beautiful women in their 30s stop to watch him push and pull, at which point he starts talking more about his wife of 12 years, who’s almost two decades his junior. Maybe they’re impressed; he is, after all, old enough to be their father or grandfather, and probably in better shape than most of their boyfriends.
Or maybe they recognize him as the poster boy from that ad. You know the one: It’s on numerous health websites, LVAC video screens and billboards around town. The one brandishing a ripped, beaming bald guy with the frame of a USC defensive tackle, advertising age management medicine — the 21st century’s next step toward the fountain of youth.
“I’m not against aging,” Life says later at his office overlooking the Strip. “Everything ages. I’m against getting old. Age management medicine is about not getting old. It’s about doing all the things you need to do to maintain optimal health and vitality and not lose your sexual function or muscle mass or energy levels.”
Life’s full of these reassuring, quippy phrases. He sounds like a self-help smartphone app at times, interspersed with little grandfatherly stories about people recognizing him at the airport — these are the only times he seems his age.
[HEAR MORE: What are your options when you get older on KNPR's "State of Nevada."]
The injection connection
At work, Life walks around like the rooster of the coop: Strutting, his jacket and tie hung up, multiple buttons of his dress shirt undone, exposing man-cleavage that should belong to a 30-year-old pool boy. Maintenance men call him sir. He calls them by their first names, asks them how they’re doing in the calm, deliberate voice he uses for everything. Studio-quality photos of his torso and arms are plastered on the walls of the office lobby, the ultimate hybrid of hubris and client motivation. Stacks and stacks of his book, The Life Plan, are on most surfaces, housing his two young, astonishingly cute secretaries in self-help castles. The book is the reason he’s showing up everywhere lately, and why his schedule, in between personal fitness and celebrity and executive client consultations, is full of interviews and video shoots.
In his book, he writes almost obsessively about nutrition, exercise and the benefits of the injections Life swears by and has been taking himself for years. It’s the superlative power-sell, starting with the typical health book concepts (Eat clean! Get enough sleep! Track your workouts!) and then ending with a bang: A third of the book covers vitamins, disease-prevention and hormones — all of which Life’s medical practice offers. That last one — hormones — is what sets him apart from many longevity docs, and not without controversy.
The building blocks
In the middle of the day, Bret FitzGerald, the LVAC vice president, walks in wearing cut-off sweatpants and a T-shirt. It’s a little surreal seeing a man worth more than the city’s foreclosed houses sweating in his slummin’-it wardrobe. He’s coming for the equivalent of a check-up; a workout that tests everything from flexibility to strength to resting heart rate.
Like Life, he’s energetic for an older guy. He joined the program a year ago when he found himself getting tired and losing energy, unable to keep up with his kid — what Life calls a decline in his zest for life. After hours with Life’s trainer, FitzGerald and Life sit down to talk about how he’s been over the past few months — not necessarily his mood, but his building blocks: His blood. His muscles. His overall stamina. They’re getting better. But it always takes more effort, especially to hit the goal — Dr. Life.
“My big plan of getting older but being younger is working,” FitzGerald says. “This program is my way to live as long as I can and continuing to snowboard, mountain bike and do triathlons until I’m 85 or 90.”
It doesn’t come cheap. The reason most of Life’s clients are executive types and celebrities is because they’re the ones who can afford to pay the initial $3,995 evaluation cost and $1,000 a month for tests, medicines and supplements — none of which are covered by any insurance plan. Life’s been on the program for 13 years and takes what he calls a handful of pills daily — what actually comes out to around 30 a day, plus testosterone twice a week. Even before that, Life won the Body for Life contest in 1998 for his age group; he was already a buff old man after a doctor’s visit (and the threat of diabetes) scared him into the gym.
But according to Life, even eating well and working out hard can’t sustain you through old age. That’s when he started working with Cenegenics, the big local age-management medicine practitioners, and got himself on a regimen of injections that gave him the testosterone levels of a man half his age — which eventually led to him donning a Cenegenics lab coat.
“Dr. Jeff Life has been the quintessential physician — passionate for medicine, dedicated to patient care and consistently striving for medical excellence,” writes Cenegenics COO Kristy Berry in an email. “His longstanding commitment to age management medicine, from his medical practice to his personal health and lifestyle, are nothing short of inspirational.”
Playing God? Heck yeah
If “Age Management” sounds like playing God, that’s essentially what’s happening, whether or not the doctors who practice want to admit it: Life and doctors like him promote the idea of healthy aging by injecting testosterone and, in some cases, Human Growth Hormone (HGH), raising the levels of testosterone that diminish as we age. Not all medical professionals think it’s such a great idea. For example, a 2010 New England Journal of Medicine study found adverse side effects — high rates of cardiac, respiratory and dermatologic events, the former of which Life’s working to reverse in himself — that made their own test come to a halt.
“I think (human growth hormone) is dangerous, expensive, and inappropriately used all across the board,” says another skeptic, Walter M. Bortz II at the Stanford University School of Medicine, who focuses his practice on longevity and healthy aging. “I’m categorically opposed to the use of growth hormone except for dwarf kids, that’s the only reason for it.” And he says any benefits of additional testosterone are outweighed by the increased risk of prostate cancer it introduces.
But Dr. Life says it’s a no-brainer for him.
“I don’t feel the least bit bad knowing what I have to do to keep this quality of life and this level of energy and fitness,” he says. “As people get older, their quality of life declines until they’re put in a personal care home, then a nursing home, and then they die. My whole goal is to sustain that quality of life that people have at age 40 and keep that going as long as possible, and not have your death dragged out over years.”
High on kicks
Weeks later, Life isn’t dragging anything, especially his feet. It’s Tae Kwon Do day, and his instructor’s making him high-kick his way through the office’s empty lobby area. His marketing manager, his trainer, his astonishingly cute secretaries: all gone for the day. In a thick European accent, the instructor commands him through a regimen of kicks and stretches, making him visibly exhausted for the first time since I met him.
“At the end of the day, look at all these women telling me what to do,” he says, half-grinning, half-grimacing after delivering a particularly high kick to the pad, one I can practically feel in my molars, legitimizing his lighthearted threat from weeks ago. As his instructor puts the pads away, Life cleans up and, for the first time that day, pats himself on the back.
“If someone told me, when I won the Body for Life contest in 1998, that 13 years later I’d look better, feel better, be healthier and be doing all this stuff, I wouldn’t have believed it. People tell me they’re amazed at how I look. But no one’s more amazed by it than I am.”