"Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have."- Winston Churchill
Assuming your goal in life is to live to be 120 with a good quality of life, how can one get there? First of all, there was a woman in France who lived to an age 122 years old. So it can be done and there are about 40 others in the world who have passed the 115 year marker. Some are still alive and kicking.
We are seeing more older people than before. The number of centenarians has increased dramatically in the last 65 years. In the U.S., we had 2,300 in 1950 and 53,000 in 2010.
The Bible claims we are programmed to die at about 120 years. Recent scientific discoveries regarding our DNA show we have a built in "aging effect" in our DNA. DNA is the building block of each cell in our body and at the end of each strand of DNA is a tail called a telomere. When we are young, the DNA tail is long and as we age it gets smaller. As our cells divide these telomeres start to shorten. When the telomere gets to a certain length, the cell does not divide anymore and dies. And when enough cells don't divide, we die.
Telomerase is an enzyme surrounding the telomere that also aids in increasing or decreasing the length. So the story of lifespan is relevant to the length of the tail on our DNA. It is programmed to shorten slowly and the tail is gone in about 120 years. However since most people today don't live to 120 years, something is obviously out of kilter. When we develop chronic diseases, cancer etc., these diseases cause oxidative damage and increase the rate of telomere tail loss resulting in us dying early (according to many studies).
Lets review the lifespan data from other countries: Japan has the highest number of centenarians in the world averaging 40 /100K and the U.S. has about 22/100K. We are behind Spain, France, South Africa, Italy, and Canada. In 1950, about 23,000 people lived to be 100, now that number in the world is over 300,000. So collectively we are making progress towards the magic 120. Worldwide, 85% of centenarians are women.
There have been many studies of aging but the most famous is the Okinawa Centenarian study. The study included over 600 people who spent 97% of their lives without any disability. The study shows that a simple diet low in calories mostly vegetarian (seaweed, kelp and sweet potatoes) and tofu and fish ( mackerel,squid, sardines) had sustained the people on the island whose average lifespan in the late 1970s was close to 90 years old. They exercise by walking daily. Women as usual live longer than men. The Okinawans have very little heart disease, stroke , cancer - the 3 big death causes for most countries. The Okinawan's average lifespan was near 90 years 30 years ago but has been reduced lately to mid 80s due to a western ( think U.S. ) diet influence.
There are a few simple things that can be done to reduce premature telomere shortening.
If we reduce inflammation in our body by eating the right diet to prevent disease, reduce oxidative stress ( by diet and toxin reduction) and eat the right amount of food we should get that lifespan over 100 years. Another factor to increasing lifespan is reducing calories. A Calorie reduction (CR) diet had been shown to be effective with all animals ( still to be proven with humans and has increased lifespan by 20-40%. The Okinawans use a fasting approach which helps increase their lifespan.
Remember our U.S. lifespan has stalled at 79 years. There are several reasons for this leveling off: Below are 3 significant factors.
1. Hospital mistakes and pharmaceuticals misuse/mistakes listed as the #3 killer of Americans is tipping the lifespan meter downward.
2. The incidence of chronic disease (Heart disease, Obesity, Diabetes T2, Alzheimer's, Hypertension etc.) and many Cancers are increasing ( future blog) vs decreasing and these diseases reduce the length of the tail.
3. We don't exercise enough which helps to maintain telomere length. We are becoming sicker vs healthier and dying even at younger ages and that consequence effects our lifespan as other countries pass us by on the lifespan chart.
Today, my lifespan is expected to be greater than our 2 sons.
Eat right, exercise, keep away from toxins add nutrients to maintain telomere length and we should be close to 120 years. Easy to say, hard to do since major behavior changes are required to "eat better and less to live longer".
Fasting, didn't the Bible talk about that?
Mathew 6:18- "That your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you".
Luke 18:12- "I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.".
A lifespan of 120 years will be achieved by more people over the next few decades with no medical breakthroughs required. However, we need to change our behaviors and lifestyle to achieve that milestone. Don't wait for science to get us there, we can do it ourselves, it is all about choice of what lifestyle do we want to live.
The next blog will give you a top 10 list of things to do to live to 100+.