I have been thinking a lot lately about longevity. The deeper I delve into the various factors which contribute to longevity, the more intrigued, yet conflicted I become.
Intrigued because longevity is very much a doable goal.
Conflicted because generally speaking, as a society, we are living longer, but not healthier.
THE LONGER WE LIVE, THE LONGER WE ARE SICK
In 2017, the World Health Organization reported
“Across the global landscape, increased non-fatal health loss paradoxically reflects both success in terms of diminishing rates of premature death but also failure in terms of maintaining health care for diseased and injured individuals.” (study on the Global Burden of Diseases, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
In non-medical jargon, that means – the longer we live, the longer we are sick. We are extending life span better than we are extending health span. This is truly disheartening news.
The goal of longevity – in my view anyway – is to extend the vibrance and energy of youth not extend the fragility of old age.
Surely we can do better.
GENETICS VERSUS EPIGENETICS
Perhaps we cannot change much on a global level, but I absolutely believe that as individuals, it is possible to take ownership of our own health and narrow the gap between our health span and our life span significantly.
The length of our life, may well be predominantly determined by our genetics. Statistically, there is a 7 in 10 chance that if your mother and grandmother lived to 100, then you just might too. “Good genes.” But if they both also had early onset dementia, then you just might too. “Not so genes.”
But what most people do not know is that there is a growing field of research called Epigenetics, which is the study of factors – like the environment, or our behaviours – that impact the expression of our genes. So just because you got a copy of the ‘presenilin dementia gene’ from your mother doesn’t mean you have to make use of it.
Dr Danial Amen describes well – “Genes only load the gun, your behaviour pulls the trigger.”
This is fantastic news. You may have a 7 in 10 chance of developing dementia, but you can choose lifestyle related behaviours to decrease those odds.
NARROW THE GAP BETWEEN HEALTH SPAN AND LIFE SPAN
So many of the chronic diseases that have us all terrified – obesity, diabetes, dementia – are amenable to lifestyle related changes .
Those behaviours include things like adequate sleep, diet and nutrition/weight management, routine moderately intense exercise, appropriate levels of stress, avoiding environmental toxins and maintaining meaningful social connection.
All behaviours we know we should do, and all behaviours many of us put off until later.
Often until much later.
I for one, waited until I was well over 200 pounds, prediabetic, hypertensive, perpetually sleep deprived and chronically stressed. I was playing roulette with my loaded gun. Fortunately for me, I pushed away from the game (hopefully not too late!) and changed my diet, lost weight, reversed my pre-diabetes and hypertension and I am correcting my sleep patterns (tricky business after decades of deprivation) and increasing my daily exercise (click here if you want to join a 21 day exercise challenge.)
Being over weight, sedentary, stressed and moody (depressed/anxious) significantly impacts our health span, as well as our life span.
Truthfully, I feel better now at 60y than I did at 50y and I intend to keep that particular trend going.
So can you. Honest.
Have a fantastic week!