The Science Behind Longevity

· 6 min read
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Many people think that the term ‘longevity’ is synonymous with ‘lifespan’. In fact, the two terms (while similar) have two separate meanings.

When we refer to someone’s lifespan, we mean the length of their individual life. Longevity, on the other hand, is a term used to describe a lifespan that has surpassed the average age of death.

Our average lifespan increased rapidly during the Age of Enlightenment because of innovations in science. A better understanding of the human body, improved sanitation practices, and improved surgical practices was largely the reason for the increased average human lifespan.

As the Industrial Revolution took hold at the beginning of the 19th century, we experienced another dramatic increase in longevity. Living in cities brought us closer to doctors and nurses, resulting in better prenatal and postnatal care for mothers and infants, as well as more resources of care for the elderly.

Now, thanks to continuing medical advancements in particular, longevity has continued to increase on a global scale with no obvious sign of slowing down. Better healthcare, vaccines, new medications, and a focus on healthier lifestyles instilled from a young age seem to be what’s driving this change. Not only that, scientists continue to make revolutionary discoveries that give us clues as to what might possibly extend our lives even further. For example, scientists have recently discovered that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids can increase life expectancy to nearly the same degree as quitting smoking.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that contribute to longevity along with some simple lifestyle changes that can help you live a longer and healthier life:

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Factors That Influence Longevity

There are a multitude of factors that can contribute towards your odds of surpassing your life expectancy. Certain factors such as the kind of lifestyle you lead are easily within your control. However, there are other factors, like your DNA, city of residence or gender, that are beyond your control. On average, women tend to live almost 5 years longer than men.

On top of that, where you live can also greatly affect your longevity. If you live somewhere that has high crime rates or poor healthcare, the odds of surpassing your life expectancy decreases.

As it turns out, poor mental health can also affect longevity. The World Health Organization reports a 10-25 year reduction in life expectancy for those with severe mental health problems. This comes as no surprise since poor mental health can often manifest with physical symptoms such as insomnia, decreased appetite and physical illness, and might prompt people who suffer from mental health problems to engage in riskier behaviour like using drugs, having unprotected sex, and drinking alcohol in excess.

Which Lifestyle Changes Influence Longevity?

There are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make and things you can do to increase your longevity. One major contributor to morbidity in humans is smoking cigarettes. Smoking increases your odds of developing conditions that would hinder your quality of life, like glaucoma, COPD and some autoimmune disorders, and also puts you at risk of being diagnosed with life-threatening or terminal illnesses like lung cancer or tuberculosis. The CDC estimates that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.

Your diet and how often you exercise will certainly impact your life expectancy as well. Heart disease as a result of a sedentary lifestyle, coupled with a poor diet high in simple carbohydrates and trans fats contributes greatly to heart disease, the leading killer in the United States.

Interestingly, it has been suggested in scientific reports that calorie restriction (such as intermittent fasting) “has been shown to increase longevity in many organisms, including mammals.” However, it should be noted that along with enhanced longevity, some adverse side effects were observed as well, such as a potential loss of bone density and muscle mass.

How Your Longevity is Influenced by Your Environment

A paper published back in 2009 by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics, after carefully analyzing several studies that positively correlated environmental factors with higher rates of morbidity, pointed out that “air and water pollution, depletion of natural resources, soils deterioration and the like, are all capable of increasing human mortality

(thus reducing longevity).”

Pollution and poverty clearly impact not only someone’s quality of life but also how long they can expect to live. Heavy pollution, particularly in the air, can result in a number of respiratory problems and pulmonary diseases.

What’s interesting is that the climate you live in seems to positively correlate with longevity. Another study that was done in China found evidence of enhanced longevity “in the coastal and southern regions of China.”

What this suggested was that populations that live at a higher altitude, experience a higher percentage of humidity and ate more sea fish might be expected to surpass the average lifespan. The proposal that sea fish might enhance longevity lends credit to the theory that omega-3 fatty acids can enhance longevity.

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Is Longevity in Your DNA?

Despite being proactive in your lifestyle choices, there are some genetic factors that will influence your longevity that are beyond your control. A DNA test from CircleDNA includes a comprehensive overview of your genetic makeup and can let you know what factors might contribute to or diminish your longevity. With that knowledge, you can make choices to better stave off age-related chronic conditions and be more aware of symptoms that might indicate their onset.

It’s estimated that genes make up about 25% of the variations of the human lifespan, and while the study of genetic longevity is still being developed, scientists have speculated that some polymorphisms are linked to exceptionally long life. A few of these variations include the APOE, FOXO3, and CETP, which you can read more about here and here.

The two most significant factors that contribute to longevity are genetics and the choice of lifestyle you lead. While genetics do influence longevity, the overwhelmingly greatest factor is lifestyle. Many of the oldest people alive today come from all walks of life, but share some things in common: most have learned healthy ways of coping with stress, are not obese and don’t smoke.

What do we mean by ‘healthy lifestyle’ choices that can improve longevity? Some examples of healthy lifestyles include the sober lifestyle, the active lifestyle, the risk-averse lifestyle, and those are just a few examples.

The Future Of Human Lifespans

So, if longevity has been steadily increasing, can we expect that trend to continue? Or, can we only increase our lifespan by a certain amount of time, after which point it’s impossible to age furter?

Human longevity has many moving parts, and while some factors (including scientific and medical advancements) might improve our longevity, the sedentary lifestyle and poor diet that’s common in developed countries can certainly often counteract any scientific advantages.

One promising field that might extend the average life expectancy to 80 years by the time it’s the year 2050, is the study of nanotechnology. Nanotech is the application of technology on a very small scale, and when applied to medicine (simply referred to as nanomedicine) we may one day be able to send molecule-sized ‘robots’ into a person’s body to repair the damage done to cells due to cancers or other disease or the simple cellular breakdown associated with aging.

The base average lifespan for humans is 77.6 years, and nanotechnology could increase the base average to 80 years.

How Can You Live Longer?

What can we do until these possible advancements in medicine are made? For one thing, if you want to live a longer, healthier life, you need to arm yourself with information about your genetic risk factors by taking a CircleDNA test. The world’s most comprehensive DNA test, CircleDNA, will provide you with health  reports including your genetic risk factors. This arms you with information about which cancers and diseases you’re at higher risk of developing, which could mean everything for your longevity, because it gives you a chance to fight your genetics. This information gives you a chance to take preventative measures.

It’s also crucial to self-reflect on your lifestyle and be honest about which changes might improve your overall health. Your life (and your longevity) happen to be nobody else’s responsibility but your own.