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When she was 116 years old, the Guinness Book of Records announced Kane Tanaka as the oldest woman in the world whose age is unquestionably confirmed. Since then, she hasn’t stopped breaking records, and this January (2022) celebrated her 119th birthday.

During her birthday celebration, people were curious as to the happiest moment she has ever experienced in her life. She surprised and touched them deeply by answering with just one word: “Now.”

Kane Tanaka
Tanaka in 1923, aged 20

When you think about a woman who’s been around since 1903, you may believe that her life wasn’t very active or eventful. But Tanaka actually makes it a habit to wake up at 6am every morning and passes her day studying Mathematics and calligraphy.

Many along the way have asked her about her secret for longevity, to which she answered that it all has to do with a belief in God, the family that surrounds her and her healthy sleep habits. If you’re wondering, even at her venerable age, Tanaka does not give up on coffee, and drinks at least three cups a day, as well as fizzy drinks.

Kane Tanaka Birthday
Tanaka at the Guinness record award ceremony

Tanaka’s story teaches us that there’s always hope for change – despite and sometimes thanks to the difficulties we encounter during our lives. When she was “only” 103 years old, Tanaka was diagnosed with colon cancer, and against all odds – managed to beat it. Sixteen years have passed since that moment, and all that’s left for us is to wish her many more healthy years to come.

When was the last time you stood up? Was it more than half an hour ago?

While it’s true that sitting and lying down gives relief to our bodies, resting too much only causes harm. If you’re living a sedentary lifestyle, you increase the chances of chronic diseases, turbulent mental health, and even early death [1].

You might be thinking, “Well, I don’t stay sedentary that much.” 

But with how our modern society is designed, see how this daily schedule may sound familiar:

  • Wake up from a 7-hour sleep [2] and sit down for breakfast. You then sit in a car for half an hour [3] to get to your office.
  • Complete your 9-5 job inside a cubicle, where you only stand up for bathroom breaks or to have lunch—which you enjoy while sitting down.
  • Take another car ride home, where you’ll sit down for dinner and sit down to relax by the TV.
sitting too long
Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

It’s not just how technology has developed, too. We’ve been conditioned to sit down since we were young [4]. From having proper manners in school to the office, sitting still shows respect and discipline. We grew up thinking sitting down equals behaving, but it’s actually detrimental to our health.

In total, the average American spends more than half of their day sitting—a whopping 15 hours every single day [5]. This figure doesn’t even consider the coronavirus pandemic, which forced us into working from home—effectively decreasing our body movements even more [6].

Moreover, while many of us resort to doing some type of workout once a day, you can’t “make up” for the lost movement in one go [7], because our bodies should move regularly. To quote Katy Bowman, biomechanist and author of the best-selling book, Move Your DNA, “There is more to movement than exercise” [8].

sitting all day
Our bodies should move regularly

You’ll need to find a way to move constantly—which is what this article will help you achieve.

How Not Moving is Harmful

Let’s take a closer look at how a sedentary lifestyle or lack of regular movements negatively affects your physical health, mental state, and overall quality of life.

Higher Chances of Chronic Diseases

Obesity. Not moving regularly limits the number of calories you burn, which leads to an increase in weight gain and often results in obesity. Plus, once you’re overweight, research shows that people with obesity sit even more than people with average weight [9], putting you in a downward spiral.

Diabetes. Sedentary lifestyles also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes by 112% [10, 11]. This is because sitting for long periods without limiting your calorie intake causes an increase in insulin resistance—a key driver of type 2 diabetes [12].

Heart Diseases. Moreover, you increase the chances of having cardiovascular diseases by 147% and the risk of cardiovascular mortality by 90% [11]. You’re more likely to experience coronary artery diseases, heart attacks, higher blood pressure, and strokes if you don’t move your body enough [13].

Poorer Mental Health

Depression and Anxiety. Not only are you affecting your physical wellbeing, but being sedentary also increases the risk of developing mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and stress [14, 15]. These researches aren’t talking about just being sad, but clinical disorders identified by physicians.

Increased Mortality Rate

Accelerated Aging. A study shows that women who spend most of their day sitting and doing minimal exercises had biologically older cells by eight years more than their actual age [16]. Moreover, those who sit upwards of 10 hours and participate in less than 40 minutes of physical activities every day had shorter telomeres—the part of DNA strands that protects chromosomes from getting older. 

Early Death. There is a 71% increase in the mortality rate for those who spend more than 6 hours a day sitting [17]. Even with significant exercising, sitting for 5-6 hours a day increases your mortality rate by 50% [18]. Physical inactivity is also the fourth leading risk for global mortality [19].

The message is clear: There are serious health effects of not moving. It kills us and makes us sick—the complete opposite of how we may perceive extended periods of rest to be.

In reality, constant movement is the key to a healthy body.

In reality, constant movement is the key to a healthy body

How to Stop Being Sedentary

It’s not easy to move all the time in our modern world today. “Human beings evolved as a walking entity, exploring the world on our feet,” said James Levine, MD, the author of Move a Little, Lose a Lot [20].

But the reality is that we’re now glued to our screens to work, socialize, and even entertain ourselves.

So how can we change our sedentary lifestyle to engage our bodies like we’re supposed to? Check out these steps to incorporate movement and start living a healthier life:

Practice Functional Movements and Patterns

Functional movement exercises enhance your ability to do everyday movements. 

“These are normalized, neurodevelopmental sequences that we see from birth on. It’s basically what human beings have to do in order to live life every day,” says John Rusin, DPT, strength coach and sports performance therapist [21].

So, try to make these movement patterns [22] regularly:

  • Squats: Lower yourself and use your ankles, knees, and hips to drive yourself back up. Squatting helps you develop muscles for multiple vertical levels throughout your day.
  • Lunges: Known as a “traveling squat,” lunges engage your lower body into a single-leg stance. This practice helps your balance and control, one leg at a time.
  • Hinges: Contrary to “lifting with your knees,” hinges develop your core and back muscles to lift heavy objects. Lift weights by leaning and raising your torso like a drawbridge.
  • Pushes and Pulls: Practice pushing and pulling something away and nearer to you. Have a combination of both vertical and horizontal versions to heighten your overall balance.

Carries: Develop dynamic stability by engaging your entire body in carrying heavy objects. The idea is that you shouldn’t feel the burn in just one area, but your whole body.

Additionally, enhance any of the functional movements by adding rotation to the pattern. You want to transfer power from your lower half to your upper half through your core, getting your body to function as one unit for full-body stability. 

Start Using a Standing Desk

For a more seamless integration of movement into your working life, switch to a standing desk so you can get into an upright position without interrupting your workflow. You’ll be able to adjust the height of your table whenever you need to take a break from sitting.

Here are a few tips for using a standing desk:

  • Set intervals to alternate between sitting and standing with your desk. A good ratio to keep in mind is 1:1 or 2:1, which means you should stand around 30 to 45 minutes per hour of sitting [23].
  • Ensure that the position of your keyboard allows your elbows to sit at a 90-degree angle [24].
  • Attach arm supports to your desk to reduce the pressure on your mouse-controlling wrist [24].
  • Relax your neck and shoulders and shift your weight from one foot to another to minimize strain.
  • Don’t slouch or lock your knees to prevent any injuries from standing for an extended time.

Ensure that you’re not standing too long, because that’s just as harmful as sitting too much. Instead, use standing desks correctly to help your blood circulation, engage your muscles, and boost your mood.

Exercise with Balance Boards

Another neat item you can try out is balance boards—a fitness tool for strength and balance training [25].

A balance board has a flat top and a dome-shaped bottom, allowing the board to shift in multiple directions. Since the base is unstable, you’ll have to use your muscles to maintain balance.

Here are some ways you can use a balance board:

  • Balancing: Step up to the board with your feet hip-distance apart. Tilt the board forward and backward, having it touch the floor without you falling over. Next, try doing it from side to side. Shift your body weight from left to right, slowly feeling the floor while keeping your balance.
  • Squats: While standing on top of the board, do mini squats to engage your lower body muscles and core strength. Place your arms in front and lower yourself while maintaining your balance.
  • Planking: Get into plank position—but with your hands on the balance board. Use your core muscles, slightly bend your elbows, and maintain a steady position.
  • Push-ups: Do push-ups on the balance board to engage your core and upper body muscles. Keep your hands on the sides, bend your elbows to lower yourself, and return to the starting position while keeping balance.

You can do many other exercises with a balance board, but these simple ones should get you started. Balance boards use your body weight to develop strength and balance, increasing your physical capability to do everyday tasks.

Stop Sitting Yourself to Death

Sedentary lifestyles are not natural. It increases your chances of getting chronic diseases, gives you poorer mental health, and increases your mortality rate.

No, our bodies should move around—at least once every 30 minutes.

You need to bring movement back to your life to extend your health span, improve your quality of life, and enjoy the world like you’re supposed to. So practice functional movements, start using a standing desk, and exercise with balance boards to give yourself a better life—one motion at a time.

Need more help in breaking free from your sedentary lifestyle?

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Citations

[1] Wilmot EG; Edwardson CL; Achana FA; Davies MJ; Gorely T; Gray LJ; Khunti K; Yates T; Biddle SJ; (n.d.). Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22890825/


[2] 25, S. C. T. | M., Team, S. C., & Team, S. C. (2021, June 3). How much sleep does the average AMERICAN GET? The Checkup. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.singlecare.com/blog/news/sleep-statistics/


[3] Bureau, U. S. C. (2021, March 18). Census bureau estimates show average one-way travel time to work rises. The United States Census Bureau. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/one-way-travel-time-to-work-rises.html#:~:text=In%202019%2C%20the%20average%20one,about%2010%25%20over%2014%20years


[4] Blatt-Gross, C. (2015, January 3). Why do we make students sit still in class?. CNN. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/30/living/no-sitting-still-movement-schools/index.html


[5] Leech, J. (2019, June 19). Is sitting too much bad for your health?. Healthline. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/why-sitting-is-bad-for-you#prevalence-of-sitting


[6] Zheng, C., Huang, W. Y., Sheridan, S., Sit, C. H.-P., Chen, X.-K., & Wong, S. H.-S. (2020, August 19). COVID-19 pandemic brings a sedentary lifestyle in Young Adults: A cross-sectional and longitudinal study. International journal of environmental research and public health. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7503726/


[7] Duvivier BM; Schaper NC; Bremers MA; van Crombrugge G; Menheere PP; Kars M; Savelberg HH; (n.d.). Minimal intensity physical activity (standing and walking) of longer duration improves insulin action and plasma lipids more than shorter periods of moderate to vigorous exercise (cycling) in sedentary subjects when energy expenditure is comparable. PloS one. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23418444/


[8] Kuklovskai︠a︡ Elizaveta. (n.d.). DP. Amazon. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0718X8N7H/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1


[9] Levine JA; Lanningham-Foster LM; McCrady SK; Krizan AC; Olson LR; Kane PH; Jensen MD; Clark MM; (n.d.). Interindividual variation in posture allocation: Possible role in human obesity. Science (New York, N.Y.). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15681386/


[10] Park, J. H., Moon, J. H., Kim, H. J., Kong, M. H., & Oh, Y. H. (2020, November). Sedentary lifestyle: Overview of updated evidence of potential health risks. Korean journal of family medicine. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7700832/


[11] Wilmot EG; Edwardson CL; Achana FA; Davies MJ; Gorely T; Gray LJ; Khunti K; Yates T; Biddle SJ; (n.d.). Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Diabetologia. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22890825/


[12] Krogh-Madsen R;Thyfault JP;Broholm C;Mortensen OH;Olsen RH;Mounier R;Plomgaard P;van Hall G;Booth FW;Pedersen BK; (n.d.). A 2-WK reduction of ambulatory activity ATTENUATES peripheral insulin sensitivity. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20044474/


[13] U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021, May 5). Health risks of an inactive lifestyle. MedlinePlus. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/healthrisksofaninactivelifestyle.html


[14] Sánchez-Villegas, A., Ara, I., Guillén-Grima, F., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Varo-Cenarruzabeitia, J. J., & Martínez-González, M. (1970, January 1). [PDF] physical Activity, SEDENTARY index, and mental disorders in the SUN cohort Study.: Semantic Scholar. undefined. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Physical-activity%2C-sedentary-index%2C-and-mental-in-S%C3%A1nchez-Villegas-Ara/b0869f0e2b071fe8063a180edcbd2decec7bdbae?p2df


[15] Zhai, L., Zhang, Y., & Zhang, D. (2015, June 1). Sedentary behaviour and the risk of depression: A meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://bjsm.bmj.com/content/49/11/705


[16] Preidt, R. (2017, January 18). Too much sitting ages you faster. WebMD. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20170118/too-much-sitting-ages-you-faster


[17] Patel, A. V., Bernstein, L., Deka, A., Feigelson, H. S., Campbell, P. T., Gapstur, S. M., Colditz, G. A., & Thun, M. J. (2010, July 22). Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of us adults. OUP Academic. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/172/4/419/85345


[18] Melville, N. A. (2014, January 12). Sedentary behavior associated with higher mortality. Medscape. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/744006


[19] U.S. National Library of Medicine. (1970, January 1). Physical activity for health. Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305049/


[20] Levine, J., & Yeager, S. (2009). Move a little, lose a lot. Amazon. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.amazon.com/Move-Little-Lose-Lot-T/dp/0307408558


[21] Exercise science & injury prevention. Dr. John Rusin – Exercise Science & Injury Prevention. (2021, August 10). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://drjohnrusin.com/


[22] 6 essential functional movements. Oxygen Mag. (2020, June 17). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.oxygenmag.com/training-tips-for-women/6-essential-functional-movements/


[23] How to use a standing desk correctly – full tutorial. ergonofis. (2020, June 26). Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://ergonofis.com/blogs/news/how-to-use-my-sitstand-desk-correctly


[24] Leech, J. (2017, June 18). 6 tips to use a standing DESK CORRECTLY. Healthline. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/6-tips-for-using-a-standing-desk#TOC_TITLE_HDR_8


[25] Brachman A;Kamieniarz A;Michalska J;Pawłowski M;Słomka KJ;Juras G; (n.d.). Balance training programs in athletes – a systematic review. Journal of human kinetics. Retrieved September 22, 2021, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28828077/

 

Can you remember who you were and how you felt a couple of decades ago? And, if so, can that information help you to reverse aging?

We often hear the phrase ‘act your age’ and interpret it to mean to stop acting like a child. Yet, research by distinguished Harvard Social Psychologist Ellen Langer has turned that notion on its head. Professor Langer is convinced that our thoughts have a lot to do with the ageing process. This has led her to focus her research efforts on unifying the mind and the body in order to reverse the aging process. This is in contrast to the conventional medical process of treating the mind and body separately.

Turning Back the Aging Clock

Professor Langer is the author of eleven books, the most famous of which is entitled CounterClockwise. In that book, she relates an experiment that she conducted in 1979. In the experiment, 16 men aged in their late 70s or early 80s, were taken to a retreat that was made to look exactly as it would have in 1959. Every detail, down to clothing and TV shows replicated that era. (1)

The men were also treated as if they were twenty years younger. They had to make their own beds, assist with dinner prep and carry their own bags. The men were divided into two groups, with the first being told to act as if they were actually living in 1959. The second group were told to reminisce about their past life.

The results of the study were very interesting. All of the men showed improvements in hearing, memory and vision. Yet, the men in the first group, who acted as if it were 1959, also improved their gait, manual dexterity, flexibility and even posture. Two thirds of them also improved their intelligence score.

It was also noticed that, even though most of the men had been largely reliant on others prior to arrival, they all managed to act independently when expected to do so. 

Professor Langer has conducted a number of follow up studies over the last few decades that have confirmed her findings that the way we think radically affects how we age. One of these has come to be known as the Chambermaid Study. In that study, hotel maids were taught to view their work as healthy exercise. This change in mindset led to the women reducing their Body Mass Index (BMI), lost weight and reduced their blood pressure. (2)

Ellen J Langer
Ellen J. Langer, Ph.D.
Professor of psychology, Harvard university and founder of langer mindfulness institute
Photo taken from www.familyactionnetwork.net

In another study, it was found that a person’s level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with aging was a determining factor in how long they lived. Study participants who had a positive view of aging lived an average of seven and a half years longer than those who did not.

Here is Professor Langer on the implications of her research . . .

Our attitudes, ideas, and beliefs are at least as important to health as our diets and our doctors. Our mindless decisions—our deference to doctors’ opinions, our willingness to accept diagnoses, even the way we talk about our illnesses—can have drastic effects on our physical well-being.

Ellan Langer

5 Key Healthspan Hacks

As a result of her life’s work, Professor Langer has some great heath hacks that we can all apply in order to improve our longevity and live more healthy, fruitful lives. Here are a five healthspan hacks that we should all put into practice:

  • Be aware of what is going on around us. Notice new things and be inquisitive about them.
  • Refuse to conform to an aging stereotype. Take inspiration from our superagers  [link to superagers articles] and break out of the box that society would love to confine you to.
  • Do not accept that getting older means getting weaker and sicker. Expect to be better each day. Commit yourself to healthy nutrition and regular exercise every day.
  • Do not allow yourself to be over helped by others. If you can carry your own bag, make your own bed and help out with the dinner, do so. Mollycoddling will make you older, whereas doing things for yourself will keep you young.
  • View yourself as a valued individual rather than a statistic or a number.

Summary

The way you think has a clear and direct impact upon the way you age, both physically and mentally. By thinking and acting younger, not accepting that you are over the hill and doing things for yourself, you will enhance your longevity and turn back the hands of time.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6615788/
  2. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17792517

 

Did you know that there are 9 things (maybe 10) that are slowly killing you? For a long time, it was thought that there was nothing we could do about them, but healthspan hacking offers a way to fight back.

We’ve known since the dawn of mankind, that, as we get older, we also begin to slow down. But it wasn’t until 2013, that the specific mechanisms by which this takes place was quantified. In that year, a paper was published in the journal Cell under the title The Hallmarks of Aging. In that article, the 9 categories of molecular and cellular damage that occurs as we age were described. (1) 

Each of the nine hallmarks of aging come under the domain of the metabolism, which is the name we give to the conglomeration of biochemical reactions that keep us alive. The nine hallmarks can be divided into three categories:

  • Primary
  • Antagonistic
  • Integrative

It is believed that the three primary hallmarks are the triggers of biological aging. These hallmarks always have a negative impact. The antagonistic hallmarks are good for us so long as they are not excessive. The integrative hallmarks are the result of the damage caused by the previous two categories.

The 9 Hallmarks of Aging Defined

Genomic Instability

You can think of your genome as the blueprint of all the cells in your body. In each cell are all the instructions to make the protein that it requires. As we age, this vital information becomes unstable, which results in DNA damage, particularly in the cell’s mitochondria.

Telomere Attrition

Telomeres are a bit like the aglets on shoelaces. Their job is to protect our chromosomes from damage. When these telomeres disintegrate, the cell will stop functioning. Each time, cells divide, the telomeres get shorter. Telomere shortening has also been related to aging. 

Epigenetic Alterations

Your epigenome consists of a number of chemical changes to our DNA that act like switches. When the switch is on, the gene is expressed and a protein will be produced. When it is off, the protein will not be produced. Our epigenome changes over the course of our life. These changes can negatively affect our immunity and increase inflammation. 

Loss of Proteostasis

Proteostasis results from a series of cellular mechanisms to prevent damage from dysfunctional proteins. As we grow older, the ability to maintain proteostasis declines, which results in a buildup of broken proteins. This is believed to contribute to such age-related diseases Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

The mitochondria in your cells produce ATP, which is the body’s main energy source. Mitochondria can be damaged in a number of ways, including mutation and oxidative damage. Damaged mitochondria will produce less ATP, resulting in reduced energy supplies. Mitochondrial damage is believed to accelerate with aging.

Cellular Senescence

When a cell becomes senescent it is no longer able to divide. These cells can be useful in wound healing but a build up of too many senescent cells is damaging to the body. Senescent cells also produce what are known as Senescence Associated Secretory Phenotype (SASP), which is thought to encourage other cells to become senescent. As we get older, the mechanisms that clear out senescent cells begin to falter.

Deregulated Nutrient Sensing

Our cells have the ability to sense when nutrients are close by in order for it to consume those nutrients. The insulin pathway, for example, tells our cells that there is an accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream. As we age, this nutrient sensing becomes less efficient, which could lead to deregulation. 

Stem Cell Exhaustion

Stem cells are the originators of all other other cells. Stem cells can become any type of cell, from a heart cell to a blood cell. As we age, stem cells are vital in replacing cells as needed. However, there is also an age related stem cell decline. 

Altered Intercellular Communication

There is evidence that aging affects the way that various systems in the body interact with one another. Aging interferes with intercellular communication in a number of ways. These include age related chronic inflammation. 

A Potential 10th Hallmark of Aging

Extracellular Matrix Stiffening

When protein molecules become fused together, crosslinking occurs. As these crosslinks become more abundant, the extracellular matrix that results stiffens. This has a negative impact on the functioning of the cells. This stiffening of the matrix is believed to increase as we age. (2)

How to Reverse the Hallmarks of Aging

From the above it may appear that the hallmarks of aging are inevitable and unstoppable. While it may be true that we cannot stop these hallmarks completely, a 2018 paper in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology details how exercise can positively impact all nine of the established hallmarks of aging. The paper showed that exercise makes significant improvements to our cells, and emphasizes the  . . .

positive anti aging impact of physical exercise at the cellular level, highlighting its specific role in attenuating the aging effects of each hallmark. Exercise should be seen as a polypill, which improves the health-related quality of life and functional capabilities while mitigating physiological changes and comorbidities associated with aging. (3)

The researchers recommend performing a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility movements with the following regularity:

  • Aerobic exercise – 5 days per week for 30-60 minutes daily
  • Strength training – 2 days per week; 8-10 exercises for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions
  • Flexibility training – 2 days per week – static and dynamic stretches

References:

  1. https://www.cell.com/fulltext/S0092-8674(13)00645-4
  2. https://www.longevity.technology/evidence-for-tenth-hallmark-of-aging-increases-with-new-paper/
  3. https://estudogeral.sib.uc.pt/bitstream/10316/80903/1/Aging_Hallmarks_The_Benefits_of_Physical_Exercise.pdf

From the beginnings of human existence, we’ve been desperately seeking a way to stave off the inevitability of death. In recent years, the research into longevity has proceeded at pace. What has been discovered has threatened to overturn long held ideas. 

Take longevity itself. We’ve long though that our lives are like an egg timer with a set number of grains of sand constantly being depleted. By the time we get to ninety or a hundred, we run out of grains of sand and we die. Yet, recent research challenges that notion. 

The ‘Mortality Plateau’ Study; Can You Live Forever?

A study of almost 4,000 ‘super elderly’ people in Italy suggests that there is no natural limit to aging. Each of the study subjects were aged 105 or older. The researchers found that the risk of mortality increases as we age but then tapers off after age 105. They referred to this phenomenon as a ‘mortality plateau.’ After the age of 105, the odds of dying over the next 12 months level to 50:50. (1)

According to Jean-Marie Robine, a demographer at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, the study suggests that humans could actually live forever . . .

If there is a mortality plateau, then there is no limit to human longevity.

– Jean-Marie Robine

The research, which was published in a 2018 issue of the journal Science, comes on the top of years of debate among researchers as to what is the limit of human existence. The conventionally held view has been that the risk of mortality increases until the age of around 80. After that, there has been much debate about whether the risk increases or not. Scientists looking at the same data have come to opposing conclusions, with some concluding that mortality risk keeps increasing as we get into our ‘super golden’ years, with others being convinced that the risk of dying tapers off when we close in and go beyond being a centurion. 

Prior to the 2018 study, the largest study on mortality limits was conducted by a team of geneticists out of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. They analyzed the ages of death of the world’s oldest people over the previous 50 years. Their conclusion was that human longevity peaked at between 115-125 years. They also found that there had been no significant increases in max life span since the 1990s. The overall conclusion of this study was that human aging had already peaked with the oldest record human. That was the French woman Jean Calment who died at the age of 122 in 1997. (2)

The Ongoing Debate: Upper Limit On Age or Not?

The results of this study were immediately challenged, with complaints being laid about the statistical methods which were used. One of the authors of the 2018 study, Ken Wachter, states that they went to great lengths to ensure that the records they collected were unimpeachable . . .

We have the advantage of better data. If we can get data of this quality for other countries, I expect we’re going to see much the same pattern.

– Ken Wachter

However, Robine is not so sure that the study is globally representative. He points to the fact that all of the participants were from Italy. He says that unpublished data from Japan, France and Canada does not support the idea of a mortality plateau. 

A global study of centurions is needed to provide a truly representative picture of what happens to our risk of dying in the super advanced years. 

 Jay Olshansky, a bio-demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is another researcher who doubts the conclusions of the 2018 study . . .

You run into basic limitations imposed by body design.

– Jay Olshansky

Oshansky points to the fact that there are cells that do not replicate. These cells, such as neurons, will wither and die as we age and not be replaced. This in itself, he contends, places an upper limit on life span. 

There are around half a million people in the glocal centurion club. Researchers predict that that figure will double every decade to come. It has also been estimated that the age of the oldest person alive will increase by one year every decade going forward. 

Researchers are speculating as to the cause for the levelling off of the mortality rate in the super aged. A theory put forward by Siegfried Hekimi, a geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, is that the cells of the body reach a state where their ability to repair themselves offsets cellular damage. 

The 2018 study has  led to much debate among scholars with the inevitable result that more research will be forthcoming. Those of us who have a keen interest in longevity eagerly look forward to it. 

References

  1. Barbi, E., Lagona, F., Marsili, M., Vaupel, J. W. & Wachter, K. W. Science 360, 1459–1461 (2018)
  2.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27706136/