On May 1st, I wrote an article entitled “Longevity. Simplified.” within which I detailed the life-extending secrets of the Okinawans, the culture spawning many of the world’s supercentenarians (those that have lived to at least 110 years of age) and those of the nonagenarians living in Monaco – 90 is the average life expectancy there, in fact! In case you haven’t read the piece, allow me to sum it up for you: There are no true secrets. We don’t have a pill that will add 10 or 15 years to your life or for that matter extend it indefinitely, although my six-year-old daughter Makenna constantly prods me about such an “Alive Medicine.”
“Daddy’s working on it, Pretty Girl.” I tell her.
So-called “senolytic” medications are a bit of a way off, although we do have some candidates in clinical trials at this point, metformin, for example [TAME trial]. Until such agents are readily available, however, and after that still, we must lead healthy lifestyles. That’s what the long-lived do. Americans don’t fall under that heading, mind you. And it’s not that the Monacoians are harboring a longevity secret. As per my article, their perceived life extension is relative. Relative to us.
You see, the United States is disproportionately unhealthy relative to other high-income countries ranking 31st in the world for life expectancy. Why? Unhealthy lifestyle factors or what I call “improper signals,” five of which account for approximately 60% of premature deaths as detailed in an April 2018 Circulation entry: Smoking, Excessive Alcohol Consumption, Physical Inactivity, Poor Diet, and Obesity.
More important than their identification, however, are their epidemiological implications in the context of potential intervention strategies. What do I mean? Well, through some fancy statistical work, Li et al. have determined the precise contributions of each of the above lifestyle factors to total and cause-specific mortality. Eliminate smoking, and your risk of dying from cancer is reduced by 50%, for example. Normalize your BMI (for as much as “BMI” is worth as a barometer) and relative to an obese person, your risk of dying a “vascular death” (from which most of us succumb) is reduced more than 250%. And the data are very clear.
So what does this mean to you?
The implications are two-fold: One, YOU can dramatically influence your lifespan by adhering to 5 low-risk lifestyle-related factors (never smoking, a healthy weight, regular physical activity, a healthy diet and limited alcohol consumption). How many additional YEARS will the adoption of these 5 factors grant you (relative to an individual who shuns all of them)? 13, on average. Thirteen YEARS! And so the second implication is clear, right? Americans could narrow (or even eliminate) the life-expectancy gap between the United States and other industrialized countries by simply leading healthy lives. The adoption of healthy habits is the fountain of youth.
“At least for now Makenna…”
Li, Y et al. Impact of Healthy Lifestyle Factors on Life Expectancies in the US Population Circulation. 2018; 117.032047, originally published April 30, 2018.