In my last blog I highlighted the ongoing, already successful studies for a longevity pill or a new treatment (gene therapy) for a longer life span. I predicted that some time, within the next 25 years, there is going to be a scientific breakthrough with a massive jump in our longevity. We will add more years to the average life span than we’ve been able to add in all the millennia of evolution. We may very well find ourselves with a life span closer to 140 years.
With this news, what can you do to prepare for such a scientific breakthrough and for those additional years of living? And what does it really mean for you? I always go back to Hemingway’s quote, “First, you must last.” For baby boomers, it means that we need to redouble our efforts to remain in good physical and emotional health. That means eating healthy and exercising regularly, plus becoming more aware of the areas of potential decline.
At age 30, your lung function begins to decline. At age 40, you begin to lose muscle mass and gain fat. At age 45, your eyes also begin to lose their range of sight. At age 50, your kidney function starts to decline. At age 55, your intestines begin to lose some of their “villa”, leading to a decrease in nutrient absorption. At age 60, you also start a gradual hearing loss. At age 65, your heart muscles begin to shrink. At age 70, your brain starts to show a cognitive dip.
Despite these challenges, there is some good news. The studies on mice, which have shown an increased life span from 2.5 years to 4.0 years, show improvement in all of these functions. So, any longevity pill and/or longevity treatment will likely reboot all of your cells, not just some specific cells. Most likely, the longevity treatment will involve several genes (or parts of those genes), thereby impacting all of your body functions through their genetic activity.
But you cannot revive a dead horse. You need good physical health. Your eating style is 80% of the key determinant. You need to switch to more of a plant-based diet than an animal-based diet. You need to increase your level of vegetables and fruit, plus add more nuts and seeds. You also need to reduce the quantity of meat, or at least select meat that comes from grass-fed animals, not grain-fed animals. Fish, especially Pacific salmon, would be a substitute for meat. You also need to reduce gluten (wheat products) and avoid GMOs. In short, you need to become more selective with what you consume.
For exercise you need to follow Dr. Kenneth Cooper and his recommendation of 10,000 steps per day. Physical activity may be 20% of your physical health, but it is a crucial 20%. Walking is fine. Jogging, when not excessive, is acceptable. You also need to add some high-intensity exercise, such as a few weights per week, to your exercise program. You need to maintain muscle mass because it impacts multiple bodily functions from how you process sugar to how much calcium you deposit in your bones.
There’s something else you need to do, but it is something many of us have failed to develop as a habit. For any Christian, we are just starting Lent. Usually, people give up something for Lent. Instead, I suggest you add something, daily meditation, for the next 40 days. I know that it sounds “weak” and now as powerful as the other changes. However, the studies on daily meditation demonstrate its power to alter the rate of decline, the rate of aging, of many bodily functions.
Meditation can help turn off certain genes that cause inflammation. Meditation can help reduce cellular damage from free radicals. Meditation can help increase the length of your telomeres, which need to be sufficiently long to fight aging. Your telomeres burn down like candles. You want them to regrow. Meditation can have that impact. In many ways, meditation can keep you physically younger and healthier. You just have to develop the habit.
There’s another warning about telomeres. They are shortened by stress. You do not have to be old. Newborns, with mother’s who have been through a stressful period during pregnancy, have shorter telomeres. Reducing your daily level of stress, perhaps by switching to a new job or new living situation, will lengthen your telomeres. But do not rely on just the reduction of stress. Add meditation to your list of habits. It will augment any improvements from reduced stress and a better life style.
Optimism can also help your longevity. As I have previously highlighted, we live life from the inside out. Your thinking, especially if positive and upbeat, impacts your physiology and general health. Optimistic people, with a positive attitude, have significantly lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and mortality. So, reduce your stress by redesigning your life; change yourself by becoming more optimistic; and add meditation to your daily regimen – and watch the positive health benefits.
Stay married and you live longer. If you are already divorced, then you need to remind yourself about our blogs on the health value of close friendships. As we grow older, our families and our network of friends, begins to shrink. We need to stay vigilant on increasing and maintaining those friendships. All mammals show decreased stress hormones and increased health and longevity with close friendships. So, if you want to live longer, step away from the office and spend more time with friends.
Now, there is one important subject that we need to address: finances. You cannot map out your finances, planning to run out of money at age 90 because that’s when you think you are going to die. What happens if we have that scientific breakthrough when you are 65-70, giving you an extra 10-15 years of life? My recommendation is simple. Retire from your stressful career and find some new part-time career that gives you happiness (and income), but not additional stress.
Some of you are going to think it’s not possible. What did I say about optimistic thinking? Here’s a clue. How about going back to school? No, not back to college. Back to learning. We all have access to the Internet. We have access to more avenues of learning than any generation in history. As you grow older, and especially if you move toward retirement, find a new passion. Find new material to learn. Then try to use that new learning to help set up an additional source of income. Protect yourself against the possibility of living 10-15 years longer. Be optimistic. Be proactive. Exercise your brain. Open your mind. Trust me. In the next 20-25 years, life is going to surprise you. Isn’t it better to be prepared?