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Dr. Paul Bragg, 94, Turns the Actuarial Tables: 'I Have An Ageless, Tireless, Painless Body'

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“The question I’m asked most often,” says Dr. Paul Bragg, “is, ‘How old are you when sex is gone?’ All I can say is, ‘You’ll have to ask someone else. I’m only 94.’ ”

It’s true. Dr. Bragg, living refutation of the actuarial tables, was born in 1881 in Fairfax County, Va. and reckons his own life expectancy at “120 and some.” He eats only organic health foods, drinks goats’ milk and distilled water, goes on fasts regularly, eschews salt and has a daily regimen that might flatten a man one-third his age. Bragg routinely runs or swims several miles each day, plays tournament tennis, competes in track meets all over the world, climbs mountains (he mastered the Matterhorn in his 70s) and still dances and surfs.

Bragg has been a fervent bodybuilder and health food advocate since he was hospitalized at 16 with tuberculosis. “They put me in a small, dark room and told me to lie there until I died,” he recalls. Instead, he went to Switzerland, where Dr. August Rollier cured him in two years with nothing more than sunshine, exercise and a diet of natural foods. “I made a promise,” Bragg says, “that if I was saved, I’d devote my life to helping people take care of their health by using Dr. Rollier’s sunshine therapy principles.” He kept his promise. In 1914—the year Dr. Rollier died at 89—Bragg opened a health food store in New York City, the first in the U.S. By then, he had acquired a Ph.D. in science and a doctorate in nutrition, and had wrestled for the U.S. in the 1908 and 1912 Olympics.

Dr. Bragg’s theories of preventive health care have been explained at length in the 100-odd publications he has written, including three books which sold more than a million copies, and on lecture tours which keep him traveling four months every year. He divides the rest of his time between Hawaii and his Desert Hot Springs, Calif. home, where he makes the desert bloom in his organic garden and keeps a herd of goats. During his Hawaiian sojourns, he conducts free two-hour calisthenics lessons on Waikiki Beach six days a week.

Over the years, Bragg has accumulated an impressive band of kindred souls including Clint Eastwood, Muhammad Ali, Bernarr Macfadden, Mahatma Gandhi and the late J.C. Penney who, Bragg insists, died an untimely death at 98. The well-preserved Gloria Swanson, 76, sometimes accompanies the health guru on the lecture circuit as a living example of his dietary admonitions and exercise. Health spa tycoon Jack LaLanne, age 60 and still rippling with muscles, says he owes everything to the nonagenarian naturopath: “I was 14 years old, sickly, with pimples and headaches, until I heard Paul Bragg speak. I immediately started following his teachings. He changed and saved my life.” Adds hotelman Conrad Hilton, 87, “I wouldn’t be alive without him.” Bragg remembers Teddy Roosevelt fondly—”one of my best students. We used to break the ice in the Potomac and go swimming. Unfortunately he had all those banquets to go to and couldn’t control his diet 100 percent.”

A widower for 35 years, Dr. Bragg is the father of five, grandfather of 12, and great-grandfather of 14. He has little use for his own generation—”they’re all dead or in rest homes”—but he has a lot of hope for today’s youngsters. “They don’t want to look or act like their overweight and unhealthy parents. They go nude on the beaches because they’re proud of their bodies. I have an ageless, painless, tireless body, I haven’t been to a doctor for more than 75 years, and I’ve got a long way and a lot of pleasures to go. Now, are you ready for a good swim?”