Can we live to 150 and beyond?
Scientists believe we have barely scratched the surface of our lifespan potential. (Part 1)
Would you like to live to 150? Perhaps older? Some scientists believe that if we can avoid dying of preventable disease and illness, and avoid accidental death due to injury, the human lifespan could be double what it is today.
In 2021, the global life expectancy is currently is 75 years old for women and 70 for men. Affluent countries enjoy a slightly higher life expectancy of around 80. Unfortunately, many of an individual’s final years are spent in poor health.
First, let’s distinguish between human lifespan and health span. Lifespan is how long you will live; your life expectancy. Health span is how many of those years people will experience in relatively good health, with mobility, independence, and a sharp mental capacity.
Recently, much has been written about so-called Blue Zones: Areas in the world that have the highest concentration of centenarians (people who live to 100). Okinawa, Ikaria, Sardinia, and Loma Linda have been previously identified as potential Blue Zones whose healthy lifestyles deserve closer analysis.
What do these centenarians do better than most? They are active, they eat whole foods with very little processing, have a strong sense of community, and most importantly, tend to marry each other and have children together.
The oldest-lived person in the world, Jeanne Calment, has only made it to 122 so far. Her compatriots are few and far between. They are also predominantly female, and longevity tends to run in the family.
It is essential not to underestimate the role of genetics in terms of a person’s life expectancy. Genetics do play a significant role in determining how long you will live, and generally speaking, if longevity runs in the family, you will likely live a long time.
Genetic isolation aside, a well-structured preventative lifestyle needs to focus on the four most likely causes of death:
- Cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, vascular disease)
- Cancer (most commonly lung, breast, prostate, colon)
- Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS)
- Metabolic syndrome (diabetes, fatty liver)
Killing nearly one out of every two people in North America, despite years of research and billions of dollars of funding, we haven’t done much to change the outcomes of people at high risk of heart disease. While genetics play a small role, heart disease is preventable mainly with diet and exercise.
Developments in pharmacotherapy like statins have improved lifespan but not necessarily health span. You can live longer with heart disease than ever before, but the quality of that life is not excellent.
Cancer is far more complicated than heart disease, killing one out of three people. Some cancers have an undeniable genetic component, while most do not. We know that lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity do raise the risk of some cancers yet the root cause still eludes scientists.
Also, nothing has changed when it comes to cancer treatments: cut (surgery), poison (chemotherapy), and burn (radiation) are still the treatments of choice despite billions of dollars spent on research and new therapies. Some gene therapies appear to be promising, but we are still many years away from developing a reasonably effective cancer treatment based on them.
Early diagnostics are the only predictable way to improve patient outcomes when it comes to cancer.
A variety of different diseases for men and women. They include osteoarthritis, MS, Parkinson’s, etc. These are any diseases that can affect mobility, independence of movement, and mental sharpness.
A precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. Long before developing symptoms of diabetes, they develop metabolic syndrome: Insulin resistance, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver, high blood pressure. Metabolic syndrome can lead to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, peripheral nephropathy, and vascular events.
An effective strategy for living to 150 needs to focus on preventing these top four diseases.
In Part 2 of this series, I will explore specific preventative techniques you can implement in your journey to living to 150.