“Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems most strange that men should fear; seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come,” wrote William Shakespeare. But what if death were not a necessary end? What if old age and death could be delayed or even defeated?
According to a recent review published in the journal Gerontology, the theory that all cells have a limited lifespan, that body cells are programmed to die after a finite number of divisions, may not be absolute. In fact, genetic research has already discovered ways to regulate cell death and double the lifespans of several living organisms.
Can Aging in Humans Be Stopped?
There are many researchers who believe we can alter human genes in such a way that we can overcome programmed cell death. Humans already live 50 percent longer now than they did 100 years ago due to our ability to fight human diseases. There is reason to believe that genetic research will find a way to extend human life much further within the next 10 to 20 years. Some gerontologists suggest that there are humans alive today who will live for 400 years. Some claim that a person born in 2100 may expect to live over 1000 years.
“Genetic studies in model organisms such as yeast, worms, flies and mice that have lead to lifespan extension suggest that longevity is subject to regulation. In addition, various system-wide interventions in old animals can reverse features of aging.” —Gerontology
Another promising way to extend human life may be through calorie restriction. Research suggests that a diet with fewer calories that still delivers enough nutrition increases the lifespan of some mammals by 50 percent. Of course, a lifespan of 120 or 150 years is still in the future. We have plenty of age-related diseases to cure first, not to mention the many ethical, social and moral issues that would need to be addressed. But what once seemed impossible no longer seems so far-fetched.
Healthy Aging in the Meantime
Prolonging life through genetic engineering or calorie restriction is still controversial and theoretical. What is not in doubt is that we are living longer and better. Part of how long and well you live is in your genes, but a lot of it is in your own control. If you want to experience healthy aging, start living a healthy lifestyle now. Here is what the experts recommend:
- Disease prevention. Start by not smoking and drinking only in moderation. Take advantage of routine preventive healthcare services including screening for diseases like depression, alcoholism, high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, breast cancer and colon cancer. Get vaccinated for the flu and pneumonia, and get a tetanus booster every 10 years.
- Exercise. Regular physical activity helps prevent heart disease, accidents and depression. Find physical activities you enjoy and stick to them. If you can walk, try to walk at least 30 minutes every day.
- Diet. Maintain a healthy weight through a balanced diet. Keep saturated fats to fewer than 10 percent of your daily calories and include coldwater fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Reduce your salt intake. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and whole grains for fiber. If you struggle with your diet seek help from a dietician or nutritionist.
- Avoid injuries. Car accidents are still the leading cause of injury related death up to age 75. Wear your seat belt. Don’t drink and drive. Keep your diving skills up to date and stop driving when you become a danger to yourself and others. If you have trouble with your balance, see your healthcare provider. Many falls can be prevented with proper medical care and sensible precautions.
- Find ways to cope with stress and depression. Get enough sleep and keep a positive attitude. Stress is inherent in everyone’s life, but you can choose how to deal with it. About one in three people over age 65 will suffer from depression, and untreated depression is the most common cause of suicide. If you are struggling with stress, anxiety or depression, ask for help.
Most of us are not likely to live for 400 years and many of us might not even want to, but a longer, healthier old age is certainly possible. Many of the disabilities that were once thought to be part of aging are now seen as preventable. You may not be able to choose your genes—at least not yet, but you can choose to live a healthy lifestyle. Getting older has never been more exciting.