Two interesting pieces recently on longevity caught my eye. It was reported in The Lancet that life expectancy is continuing to increase and that a large number of babies born this century will live to be a century.
I was first shown statistics like this in 2003 at an anti aging conference in Singapore run by The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M). The statistics showed that life expectancy in the developed world has been steadily increasing at the rate of one quarter of year per year (1 year each 4 years) since the late 1800s and that the graph was not plateauing. These latest findings confirm this.
Many reasons are cited and not surprisingly there will be many lining up to take the credit. It is due to a combination of many factors. One of the main ones is that average life expectancy is strongly influenced by childhood deaths. As these have bee reduced significantly the average has gone up. Better food, sanitation and living conditions have helped too. Modern medicine has had a role but less than it might claim.
Life expectancy still differs in different countries. Japan has one of the longest life spans and it is thought that half of its 80 year old women will make it to 90.It is also estimated that in very near future the number of people over 65 will exceed the number under 5.
The second article looks at the effects of recession on life span and shows perhaps surprisingly that bad economic times correlate with greater increases in longevity. In other words health increases in bad times more than good. Again there are many reasons put forward. Less stress is a key factor .If people have less work to do they slow down, get more sleep and may make more time for exercise. Now there are downsides to recessions too so this effect is not across the board. However the overall effect on the health of the population is positive.
Averages reflect numbers on both sides of the “average”, the question then becomes what are the people who live longer than “average” doing and what can be learnt from them. From my experience as a doctor talking to thousands of people over the years, those who live healthiest longest are looking after their bodies. They are putting in the right fuels, they are active on a regular basis, they get enough sleep and relaxation, they keep themselves hydrated, they have good relationships and they enjoy what they are doing. None of this is difficult or beyond the reach of anyone
What matters most is quality of life. Living more years if you are in pain or immobile or have lost your memory is not appealing to most people. The good news is that looking after your health means you enjoy a better life and it in turn makes it more likely that you will live longer and enjoy those years.