I’ve recently updated my bucket list and I’ve added “become a supercentenarian”. It may very well be the last thing I’ll ever do. Quite simply, a supercentenarian is a person significantly older than 100, they are usually more 110 years old.
While this may seem like a complete pipedream, new research suggests that living up to and past 100 may soon be the norm.
Recently at a conference discussing Longevity in Geneva, Switzerland, scientists have stated that we may be able to slow down the biological aging process. Quick, sound the alarms!
Currently, many scientists in this field believe that aging is a result of epigenetic changes. Epigenetic relates to the activity of our genes. Things like smoking, alongside pollution, alongside other environmental and lifestyle factors, can increase or decrease the activity of certain genes.
David Sinclair, a Harvard University geneticist and anti-aging researcher, said that: “epigenetic reprogramming is the ultimate way to reverse aging.” He says that the primary driver of aging is changes in our genetic makeup.
For many researchers in this field, the goal is to increase what they call the “Health Span” rather than the life-span. Essentially, they want to increase the amount of time people are healthy and happy, rather than simply adding years onto the end of one’s life.
So what does epigenetic reprogramming entail? Well, at this point in time, it’s relatively new and centres around lifestyle changes but in the future, scientists hope to “reprogram cells to be young again”.
When you Google “how to live to 100”, a lot of results pop up. But the majority of them have the same basic principles: “a clean environment, fresh food, physical activity and utilizing medical advancements” can help extend one’s lifespan or as I should say, healthspan.
Certain activities can really give you some extra time. Having a hobby can add two years to your life. Getting enough sleep adds at least another two. Working out 5 days a week can give you four more years. And, eating lots of fruits and vegetables can add up to 5 more years while cutting down on stress can give you an extra six. The math is easy, but the lifestyle changes are hard.
In 1979, 2500 men were asked to follow 5 simple rules:
- Eat well
- Work out
- Drink less
- Keep one’s weight down
- Never smoke
40 years later, the researchers met with these same men and only 25 of them succeeded in following the guidelines. However, these men were all fitter, healthier and happy than those who gave up or quit.
Now, I know a lot of these things are easier said than done. It’s easier to think that you’ll eat well, exercise and avoid drinking. I know it can be hard. (I recently wrote an article on this very topic)
Even little changes and habits can make a huge difference. Flossing daily, which takes seconds, can add an extra 6.4 years to your life! So listen to your dentist! The reason why flossing adds so many extra years is because it removes harmful bacteria which can cause inflammation. By reducing this inflammation, you can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. So if you’re going to do anything, you may as well floss.
I was curious to see who some of the oldest people on the planet were. So I googled. I found a long list; specifically, the “list of the oldest verified people”. I found it on Wikipedia, so it’s not super official, but still very interesting. There were 108 people on the list. At first, nothing really stood out. The youngest person was 114 and the oldest was 122. But then I noticed something a tad peculiar. Almost every person on the list was female. Only 6 out of the 108 were male. That’s weird, I thought. So again, more research.
Apparently among people over the age of 100, 85% of them are women. (Sorry boys!) It’s not entirely clear why women seem to outlive men. One interesting article by Time Magazine said it could be due to the difference in iron levels. Due to our menstrual cycles, women are often relatively iron-deficient compared to men. Iron is involved in cellular reactions that can produce damaging free radicals. These free radical can alter our DNA and cause our cells to age. It’s been well-documented that men often experience cardiovascular problems 10 years earlier than women do. This is thought to be related to the iron levels. It is also believed that this lack of iron is one of the reasons why vegetarians and vegans typically outlive their meat-eating counterparts. Now, take this with a grain of salt. (Full disclosure: I’m in business not biology. Feel free to correct me!)
For the most part, barring injury, illness and a poor genetic lottery, living past 100 is somewhat feasible. According to an article published in the Guardian, current research predicts that people born after the year 2000 will live to 100.
And it is predicted that by 2050, there will be more than 800,000 people over the age of 100. If, like me, you’re curious about your life expectancy, you should visit the website livingto100.com. This lets you calculate your life expectancy while providing useful tips to improve your longevity.
The elderly population is booming and will continue to boom. According to the US Census Bureau, those over the age of 80 now make up the world’s fastest growing age group.
The current life expectancy in Canada is roughly 80 years old or 81.96 if you’re being really picky. If people live to 100, that’s an extra 20 years. If they life to 120, that’s an extra 40. While this is pretty simple math, it could have enormous ethical, environmental and societal implications. These centenarians and supercentenarians would put a larger strain on resources like food, water, and energy. Not to mention medical care. It could also mean we may have more people in the workforce, many of whom may choose to delay their retirement. This could impact the amount jobs available to young people. Prolonging life to such degree also brings into question moral and ethical decisions.
Now, we are relatively unprepared for how we would handle this. It’s uncharted territory. In the 20th century the average lifespan has increased by 30 years and this was the largest increase in all of human history. So, definitely uncharted territory.
But, when surveyed most people state that their ideal life span is 90 years old, which is only a few more years than average. Me? I want to live to 120. Perhaps, it’s my youthful perspective or plain ignorance talking, but I want to do as much as I can in my life and I would love to have those extra 40 years. To all of you reading this, I formally invite you to my 120th birthday. It’s tad early, but it’s always good to save the date. May 10th, 2118.