Longevity: Do You Really Want It?
“Mark”, age 86, is a pretty good example. Alice and Mark both attend a Learning In Retirement series along with a packed classroom of other seniors. Mark rides his bike there to the community college twice a week, three miles each way. He puts in other miles on the bike every week as well, a total of 50 altogether. He looks great and sounds very alert and “with it”. If that’s what longevity is about, I’d like to do it too. Notice that he that he rides for exercise as well as transportation. He’s slim and fit. He keeps both his body and his mind active.
We talk about living long and well. Scientists all over the world are searching for ways to extend our lifespans. But what if this isn’t such a great idea? What if we get there and find out that living to extreme old age is not as great as some think it’s supposed to be?
Our lifespan is indeed increasing, mainly due to advances in diagnostics, medical treatment and medications to cure a lot of our age-related ills. But not all are being cured. Alzheimer’s Disease is an example. We don’t have clear answers about how to prevent it, though we have a pretty good idea of some workable strategies to improve our chances. At least 5.2 million people are affected by Alzheimer’s in the U.S. alone. We can’t stop its progress. We can’t even slow it down. Those who have it need care from their younger relatives and caregivers. And that is quite a burden. Longevity may not be looking so good for the ones who must tend to the steadily increasing care needs of those who have Alzheimer’s Disease. It can last as long as 20 years.
The later part of life is usually a vulnerable time with numerous risks to health, safety, memory and independence.
And what about our society’s attitude toward aging, in general?
The media around us relentlessly delivers the message to “turn back the clock”, “feel younger”, “erase age” and surely if you take a pill you’ll enjoy life as if you were younger. We seem to abhor the idea of aging, itself at the same time we are trying to spend more effort researching how to live longer and longer. It’s kinda nuts!
What we need is not just longevity. It’s a longer healthspan, a time of being in good physical and mental condition so we can actually enjoy more older years. That takes work. Are seniors really working at healthy aging? We do know how most retired people spend their time as they age. Research shows us that retired individuals spend hours and hours watching television. If that’s what longevity is about, I surely don’t want it.
Perhaps the best way to think of longevity is that it’s worth aiming for if you’re willing to expend the effort to make it as healthy a time as you possibly can. And that will require more than just wishing, or expecting that it’s all luck. It’s only about 30% luck and genetics, in fact. The other 70% is all about how you choose to live your life, whether with good habits or not. We are all better off if we have a plan for our later years or for “old age” that has purpose. Each of us can find it in what we are good at and what we enjoy doing. We can also find it in making healthy longevity a goal.
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Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt & Dr Mikol Davis