It is often said that a medical revolution will transform life in the 21st century. Some, like the British researcher Aubrey de Grey, even believe that ageing itself can be stopped. And he is not alone. Popular science writers like Michio Kaku take it for granted that the human lifespan is set to rise – perhaps spectacularly so. Unfortunately, many seem to think that this coming revolution gives them a licence to live however they like. Others take a different view, dismissing people like de Grey as charlatans and claiming that nothing can be done since the lifespan is fixed. Once again, however, this is little more than an excuse. Whether medicine makes spectacular advances or none at all, ultimate responsibility for a long, healthy lifespan rests with the individual.
The Right Sort of Exercise
Even the most ignorant and irresponsible people are aware that exercise is vital. Fewer seem to realize that not all exercise is beneficial however. Indeed, some forms of exercise can actually cause you harm. This is because of something known as inflammation. Inflammation can occur when the activity is excessive or brutal. Researchers had often noted that professional boxers and footballers seemed to live no longer than average, in spite of the superb physical condition in which they had spent their careers. It is now thought that the brutal nature of their sports causes inflammation which in turn speeds up the ageing process. So make your exercise regular but gentle. It is important to push yourself and get sweating, but do so via yoga, swimming, cycling or long-distance walking. Even marathon running has its critics. After all, humans may have evolved to hunt game over vast areas, but they were never meant to run non-stop on concrete for 26 miles!
Make Human Relationships Your Priority
No one ever lay on their death bed wishing they’d spent more time in the office. But research suggests that neglecting human relationships could bring you to that death bed sooner than you anticipated. Loneliness kills. This is no longer mere poetic sentiment but hard scientific fact. People who are physically isolated and lack touch, love, and intimacy have a higher risk of strokes, heart disease, and even cancer. As if that wasn’t enough, it is now known that a lack of human touch can actually weaken your immune system.
Intimacy is key. Many people claim to have lots of friends or to enjoy a busy social life yet, when pushed, will admit that these relationships are shallow and unfulfilling. Anyone can add new friends on their social media accounts, join a sports club, take evening classes, or make an effort to chat more at work. But that does not mean they have deep, enriching and fulfilling relationships. Never stay in a miserable, dysfunctional relationship unless you truly have no other option. Also, make the time to visit siblings, cousins, parents or children. Make a list of your four or five closest friends. How many of them truly love and care about you? Be brutally honest. How many of them cheer you up when you feel low? Most people have friends who not only hope to see them fail but do all they can to bring this about. Others are simply miserable and depressing. Maybe you have friends with whom, in truth, you have nothing in common – people you have known since school or college and never shook off. You must be ruthless. All the time you are wasting on them could be spent forming exciting new relationships. Never underestimate the difference people can make to your life or to your mood. Some can literally plunge you into depression while others can make you feel 20 again. Some people spend years together without ever truly connecting, others meet and, after a few hours, feel as if they have known each other for years.
Anyone intent on living a long, happy life should consider changing their diet. Not only does diet affect your physical health and your vulnerability to different illnesses, it also affects your mood. The ageing process itself is largely caused by free radical damage to the cells. The details can be rather complicated, but essentially the body produces free radicals when oxygen is used to create energy. Over time, they accumulate. If the body does not have sufficient antioxidants to counterbalance them, however, they break down DNA and trigger the deterioration of the brain, the blood vessels, and so on. So eat a diet packed with antioxidants: lots of fresh, raw, organic fruits and vegetables, as many different types and colors as you can manage. More generally, avoid alcohol, sugar, and processed foods. Refined carbohydrates are very bad because the body converts them into sugar. If possible, you should also avoid burning, barbecuing, or frying your food. Along with fresh fruits and vegetables, consume poultry, oily fish, nuts, seeds, and lots of purified water.
Stress and Anxiety
Modern life could have been designed to maximize stress and anxiety. Most people live packed into overcrowded towns and cities, fight their way to work through crowds and traffic jams, and then spend their day sat in front of a flickering screen. Never underestimate the impact stress can have on your physical and mental health. Left unaddressed it will simply build and build, causing insomnia, depression, and even physical illness. First, identify the source. Maybe you are trapped in an unhappy relationship. Do you have money worries? Work is possibly the most common cause of stress. Ask yourself some serious questions. Above all, is it worth it? People will often say that it simply isn’t practical to leave their dysfunctional relationship or change their horrible job when in fact it is perfectly easy. Of course, other factors can heighten your anxiety levels. Do you eat healthily? Far too many people live on caffeine, sugary drinks and junk food. These will play havoc with your nervous system. Caffeine is a stimulant while fizzy drinks and refined carbohydrates will send your blood sugar levels soaring, followed by a sugar crash.
One of the problems with modern life is that sensitive people tend to find themselves overwhelmed or engulfed. Until very recently in human history, the average person knew little about life beyond their village or town. They had their worries of course, but they didn’t take the problems of the world onto their shoulders. Now, thanks to 24 hour news (the vast majority of which is bad), people know immediately about an earthquake on the other side of the world and are subjected to instant, high definition images of the misery and horror involved. Then there is the ‘drip drip’ effect of long-term worries like overpopulation, climate change, mass migration and nuclear weapons. Make a point of separating problems into two groups – those you can do something about and those you cannot.
Use the words ‘lifespan’ or ‘ageing’ and many people will shrug and tell you about a friend who smoked and drank and yet lived to 100 while another exercised and ate his vegetables yet dropped dead at 52. Others will resort to clichés, saying things like “ah, who wants to live forever?” But taking the steps laid out here is important not because they will increase your lifespan (though they may do) but because they will improve the quality of that life.