The Real Factors That Affect Longevity
Longevity. Everyone wants it, but not everyone gets it. Longevity is defined as the expected number of years remaining in someone’s life at any particular age. No doubt this has been the quintessential conundrum of the human experience since the creation of our species. So why don’t we have an answer to this question? Even though there is clear data that proves that we as humans are living longer than ever, what are the real factors that determine whether an individual has a higher likelihood of reaching an older age or not? I believe that we should focus on the following three factors: MEDICAL, ENVIRONMENT, AND HUMAN.
1. MEDICAL: In medicine, we typically talk about risk factors. Risk factors reflect an individual’s chance of developing a particular disease. This can be further broken down into the sub-categories of modifiable versus non-modifiable risk factors. Modifiable risk factors can be managed by taking action. Examples here include getting vaccines; performing age-appropriate cancer screening strategies (ex. screening colonoscopy, Pap smear, and screening mammography); not smoking cigarettes; controlling body weight and avoiding conditions such as pre-diabetes, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. If someone does have a modifiable condition, then there are many treatment strategies readily available to minimize the effect of said condition. Non-modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, include age, gender, family history, genetics, race, and ethnicity. Obtaining routine and periodic medical examinations with your primary care physician is the best way to increase longevity from a medical perspective.
2. ENVIRONMENTAL: This factor undoubtedly touches us all and would be considered modifiable. Scientists study various factors including pollution, radiation, agriculture & irrigation, climate change & destruction of ecosystems, as well as occupational risks & individual hazards, and built environments. These all play an important role when we look at longevity.
3. HUMAN: This is likely the most important factor to consider and can be broken down into three distinct categories. The first is socioeconomic status. The World Bank Group published data that individuals with the highest income lived longer on average than those in the lowest brackets at a value of 81 years versus 62 years. This was in the year 2015. In comparison, in the year 1960, the difference between high income and low income was 68 and 39 years, respectively. The second category impacting longevity is location. Living in North America (not the USA as Canada has higher longevity data) confers a longevity benefit when compared to other regions of the world (Europe, Asia, Latin American & the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Africa). That said, in 2005 National Geographic magazine first identified “Blue Zones,” which are the locations on Earth where people tend to live the longest and be the healthiest. These locations are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California, USA; and Ikaria, Greece. Researchers continue to study these populations in more detail. The last human factor affecting longevity is your situation in life. Individuals that live in fragile and conflict-filled situations, those that live in heavily indebted poor countries, and those that reside in the least developed countries based on United Nations classification tend to have shorter longevity than people not residing in one of these scenarios.
On my premiere episode debuting this week on 4/4/18, I’ll be exploring how to best design longevity strategies in more detail, especially for those of us who have been too busy to really give it much thought. At its conclusion, listeners will hopefully be better equipped to build a foundation for improved longevity in their own lives.
To Your Health!