Mortality. It is the one thing that despite our progress as human beings we cannot conquer, but still an issue which has intrigued mankind since forever. Such is our fascination with death and our quest for immortality, that ancient cultures are awash with myths they created of immortal gods who lived beyond eternity. While survival has always been our species’ priority, man’s quest for longevity has never been as focused as in the past couple of centuries. Once our most fundamental needs for food, shelter and belonging are met, the desire for a long life is probably high on every human being’s list of priorities. But is there really some magic formula to help us live longer? Is there a list of do’s and don’ts of tried and tested methods for extending our life span?
It is a fact that in the last century of the last millennium, our life span has been exceptionally extended. While in 1900 the life expectancy of an average person was 47.3 years, in 2016 that number has risen to 78.7 years. To put things in their right perspective, anyone living inancient Egypt (approx 3000 B.C.) is thought to have had an average lifespan of just 21 years. Today a substantial number of people are celebrating their hundredth birthday and beyond; by 2030 it is expected that there will be around a million centenarians worldwide. While these are as yet uncommon, the number is increasing steadily and centenarians account for 1 in every 10,000 of the global population.
It is well-documented that on average women live a few years longer than men, and while many theories abound, medical science has yet to find distinct reasons behind this trend. However, it is worth noting that the average age of dying for men is steadily catching up to that of women. But in our quest for a longer life, not all is as rosy as it should be. We are so preoccupied with trying to extend our lifespan, that we totally ignore the drawbacks; namely the quality of life we lead the longer we live. For one thing, the age of retirement consequently increases. If government pensions dry up, the number of people living in poverty will probably increase. Also, a long life rarely equates with good health. Conversely, there are many advantages to living longer and obviously everyone has their ideas of what they would want to experience in their own extended lifespan.
Our obsession with longevity has led to numerous studies around the world, all which are trying to unearth the secrets to successful aging. As more people are living longer lives, it’s becoming easier to study these unique individuals, and find out what sets them apart from the rest. Two popular ongoing studies include the New England Centenarian Study and the Okinawa Centenarian Study in Japan. These projects have yielded some interesting findings…
People who live to be 100, have lived a healthier life than most, suffered little or no major illnesses and have always benefited from a good level of general health. Centenarians are usually found to be non-smokers and are lean and fit. Very few overweight people live to be a 100. Although they may have gone through grim and tough times like the rest of us, they have a more positive attitude to life, handle stress better, adapt and move on more easily. Those who have lived for a century or more usually have higher self-esteem and a laid-back approach to life. Genes also play their part; longevity is part of their genetic make-up and come from families that live longer. On the other hand, cultural background, affluence or lack of, education or diet has no bearing whatsoever on reaching one’s first centenary.
The downside to this phenomenon is that in the developed world, it seems that the more rapid progress society makes, the less there is a need for the elderly. This is an incorrect perception, for as long as the elderly are able to retain their faculties; they probably have a lot to offer by way of advice, story-telling, passing on family history. Their sound contributions to our society can enhance greatly our quality of life, because after all, time is on their side. As old timers, they know about most pitfalls that younger generations face on a daily basis; whether it’s work related, child rearing and every other problem that life manages to throw at them.
There is only one constant to life on earth; we are all going to die anyway. So, while fighting off the grim reaper for as long as possible does sound tempting, a longer life does not necessarily equate with a richer, more fulfilling one. Therefore, it seems that the best recommendation would be to just enjoy all that we’ve got, for as long as we’ve got it, and as a sage man once said, “Forget about yesterday, live for today, and let tomorrow take care of itself!”