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Hyper Longevity: How to Make Death Obsolete

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The history of aging, the current state of longevity research, and lifestyle secrets for living a long and prosperous life are discussed.

This chapter is from the book

If you came to this chapter expecting to read the magic 10-step certified Super You process that will help you live a very, very long time, then here it is; although, notice that it’s only three steps.

  1. Don’t get sick.

  2. Avoid accidents.

  3. Wait.

Easier said than done, right? Don’t get sick? That’s not a step. But you need to invest effort into avoiding it at all costs because unless something bad happens, such as a Whole Foods truck taking you out as you cross the road to buy a Twinkie, then you can pretty much be sure some nasty disease will end your life at some point. Don’t get sick. We’ll show you what we know about not getting sick in more detail later in this chapter. We’ll then show you how technology (and its accelerating improvement) is going to help you stay healthy. Or cure what ails you.

Step 2 is less controllable. Still, here is the advice, avoid the following: Falling down, guns, cars, poison, suffocation, and water (drowning). Avoid people because they statistically kill the most people, by accident or on purpose. People also kill themselves. It’s hard to avoid yourself. But be vigilant with your mental health.

If you are successful with Steps 1 and 2, and most people are because even though people do die of accidents and disease, the average human life span worldwide is 71 (based on 2013 World Health Organization (WHO) data). By the time you read this, it will be pushing toward 75 and in the next decade on its way to 80. Australians live to 83. Canadians live on average longer than Americans. Their life span is on average 82.5 years. The Japanese are the longevity champs at 84.6 years. Average American life expectancy in 2014 was a rather sad 79.59.

Step 3 is “wait.” This is deceivingly simple. But we really mean it: Let time go by and stay alive as best you can. Waiting is important because as time goes by, the acceleration of technological improvement will bring new therapies to stave off and eventually mitigate death. We will talk more about this in detail a bit later.

When these handy steps help you live a very long time, you can send us a nice thank you card when you turn 100 or 200 ... you’ll see.

Table 8.1 shows the top ten things that kill people in the United States.

Table 8.1 Leading Causes of Death in the United States

Rank

Cause

1

Heart disease

2

Cancer

3

Lower respiratory (lung) disease

4

Stroke

5

Unintentional injuries (accidents)

6

Alzheimer’s

7

Diabetes

8

Kidney disease

9

Flu and pneumonia

10

Suicide

Source: National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2010.

The History of Aging

Here’s the best news of all: Life expectancy rates—the median age of death for most people in a given population—has been consistently increasing since early man dropped out of the trees and moved into subdivisions.

Technology helps increase life span so it is no surprise that the trend in technology is similar to the graph of life expectancy rates.

Let’s start as close to the beginning as possible. Research efforts to plot the growth of human life span in early human development have been somewhat daunting. The passage of time has erased remains of early humans from the prehistoric era. With access to only the fragments of skeletal remains from archaeological digs, scientists are limited by the resources at their disposal to conduct their research.

Until recently, this impeded scientists’ ability to uncover the average life expectancy rates of the earliest humans. However, in 2004, anthropology professors Rachel Caspari of Central Michigan University and Sang-Hee Lee of the University of California-Riverside established a revolutionary method of fossil analysis. This allowed them to track the first significant life span shift in the history of mankind.

They use what is called the OY ratio (old to young ratio), which uses bone analysis to measure relative age—instead of the exact age of a person—at the time of death. Using this method, they were able to group bone fragments for the fossilized remains of 768 humans in four regions of the world into categories of “young” and “old.”

When the researchers measured the proportion of young to old in each population, they discovered life span rates increased marginally across most of the time periods except one. Humans living 30,000 years ago had an OY ratio five times greater than earlier populations. For the first time, three generations of the same family coexisted, and humans lived long enough to become grandparents. Naturally, this discovery is called the “evolution of grandparents.” And the 5 p.m. early bird dinner special was not long behind. (This last bit is speculation, don’t write that in your thesis.)

This sudden increase in life span appears to be related to knowledge transferred from earlier generations. Over time, the oldest people transferred the tools they had for survival to the youngest people. Then the youngest people used existing knowledge to improve upon those tools. Eventually, family members could survive long enough so three generations were living at once.

Caspari and Lee identified the impact of knowledge transference on longevity in another study they published in 2006. They reviewed the OY ratios of Upper Paleolithic Europeans to understand whether life span increases in the population were a result of their biology or their culture. They found that life span increased when modern humans arrived in Europe, bringing new knowledge with them.

The earliest information available that verifies the exact ages of humans at death comes from epitaphs of those who died during the Roman Empire. These show an average life span for Romans was 20 to 35 years old. Infectious diseases or infected wounds from accidents or conflicts were the major causes of death. Child mortality was high as well. However, if Romans survived birth, didn’t contract a deadly disease, or get skewered with a spear, they could live into their 60s and 70s.

Major killers included cholera, tuberculosis, and smallpox. Plagues such as the bubonic plague in the fourteenth century—also known as the Black Death in Europe—wiped out as many as one-third of Europe’s entire population.

Between 1500 and 1800, life expectancy rates rose to between 30 and 40 years. By the 1800s, life expectancy rates had doubled thanks to the Industrial Revolution. Major innovations in manufacturing sparked improved health care, sanitation, access to clean water, and better nutrition. Inventions in transportation, such as the steam engine, also increased the dissemination of knowledge across continents.

Life expectancy rates have improved gradually in the last couple of hundred years or so between 1800 and 2012. There was a small dip from 1918 to 1919, when the influenza outbreak (disease) and World War I (other people) killed large numbers of the population before age could get them. As we said, it’s illness that greatly shortens most people’s longevity. However, technological innovation in science and medicine is the great tool against illness. For those of you that were around in the 1970s or 1980s, you’ll recall (or if you don’t, ask someone who does) how people related to cancer and AIDS in those decades. These diseases were once pretty much death sentences if you became ill with them. After a diagnosis, you cleaned up your affairs, told the people around you that you love them, and then sooner or later you succumbed to the disease. There was little medical science could do for you, except perhaps help you to suffer less at the end.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were a series of major health innovations that helped prevent and manage acute and chronic disease. Among them were antibiotics, vaccines, pharmaceuticals, and various medical instruments that advanced treatment capabilities.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, the average global life span was 75. That number is still improving, as has been the long-term trend. As we said earlier, the average American life expectancy in 2014 was 79.59.

And guess what’s going to happen to the trend as nanotechnology, stem cell research, robotics, and genetics all continue to progress? Humans will live longer, especially those in developed nations with access to wealth, and of course the technology to spend that wealth on.

The Methuselah Award Goes to ...

If you are going to live a very long disease-free life, then it’s probably helpful to understand who has done the best job at it. And it would be logical to copy that person’s habits, even if that logic is flawed.

Here’s a little story. Once upon a time there lived three very different people who lived on three different continents and led three very different lives. They all were named in the Guinness World Records as record holders for longevity.

  • Jeanne Calment—Let’s start with Jeanne Calment, a French woman who lived to 122. Upon her death in 1997, she was referred by the newspaper Le Monde this way: “Elle était un peu notre grand-mère à tous,” which means, “she was a little bit grandmother to us all.” Calment holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest person ever to live. She was born in the south of France and spent her entire life there. She witnessed the building of the Eiffel Tower and met Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh. Each week, she purportedly ate 2.2 pounds of chocolate paired with a daily glass of port wine. The rest of her diet was rich in olive oil, which she also slathered on her skin in an effort to fight wrinkles.

  • Jiroemon Kimura—While Calment ate chocolate and drank port, Jiroemon Kimura, from Japan, was restricting his diet. Kimura is the oldest man that ever lived. He died at age 116. Kimura believed in eating small food portions every couple hours. During his life, he witnessed the reign of four emperors and saw 61 Japanese prime ministers hold office.

  • Sarah Knauss—Then there was American Sarah Knauss. She lived three years more than Kimura, dying at the age of 119 in Pennsylvania. The Ford Model T was introduced while she was growing up. She also lived at the time when the Titanic sank in 1912. She was a homemaker and her hobbies included needlepoint and watching golf. Her favorite snacks were milk chocolate truffles, cashews, and potato chips.

So what do all three have in common? They were supercentenarians—people who live to the age of 110 or more.

But besides that, they seemingly have few lifestyle commonalities. For scientists that have studied these long livers, the conclusion is mostly a collective shrug. Nothing about these supercentenarians outwardly suggests any set of strategies that can be copied to produce a longer life in another person.

That said, there has been some significant research in longevity that has produced some interesting results, and this work does suggest actions anyone can take to extend their natural life span.

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