Healthier lifestyles and medical technology are quickly transforming the idea of aging in America In 1513, when 53-year-old Juan Ponce de LEÓn sailed off the edge of the map looking for the fabled fountain of youth, average life expectancy in Europe was about 40. So, statistically speaking, Ponce de León was past his due date even before he hit Florida and took a poison arrow from the Mayans. But in a way, maybe he did find those rejuvenating waters—just 500 years early. Today Florida is fast becoming the American epicenter of longevity. Right now, 17.6 percent of Floridians are over the age 65, the highest percentage in the nation, and 2.5 percent of them will likely celebrate their 100th birthday. Do the math and you’ll realize that in 2045 there will be 75,000 centenarians in the Sunshine State, almost as many as in all of the U.S. right now, and that’s not counting migration. Granted, the 100-year mark is an arbitrary milestone, but one that captures our imagination about our growing life spans. After all, in 1900 the average American lived less than half that long (47 years). Today the average life span is 78, and it’s projected to continue to
by adam fisher, GrahAM Verdon and David wright
climb. Many experts believe there will be up to a million American centenarians by 2050, and it’s numbers like these that are quickly rendering obsolete the idea of the 65-year-old senior citizen. Studying centenarians and their progeny is a valuable longevity research opportunity. The evidence from the longest-lived, both in the U.S. and around the world, suggests that living with a sense of purpose, close connections to the community and a charitable, giving mindset are as much a part of longevity as good eating and exercise—and even lucky genes. In fact, extensive studies of longevity in other species suggest our life spans are only 30 percent determined by genetics. The rest is in our hands—and increasingly those of researchers quickly unlocking the secrets of aging itself. In the end, we may find that the true fountain of youth is the deeper collective knowledge we’ll gain from having our wisest and most experienced citizens living among us longer. Through their example, we’ll continue to learn from the source that perhaps the ultimate key to longevity is a life well-lived.
Until fairly recently, most advances in human longevity could be attributed to improved sanitation and the advent of vaccines. Together, these developments put a major dent in infant mortality and childhood diseases and helped ensure that people would live to a ripe old age. Although aging remains a mysterious, complicated process, much of the current research focuses on treating it as a disease. Here are just some of the areas of research that many experts believe, in some combination, might extend live spans to lengths hard to imagine.
Nutraceuticals: These are foods or nutrients with known
live it up
WISDOM OF THE AGES: As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters. — Lucius Annaeus Seneca, philosopher
medicinal properties, in addition to nutritional benefits, that can help prevent chronic diseases and may stop—or even reverse—aging. Antioxidants, for example, mop up cancer-causing free radicals in our bodies. An antioxidant-rich diet (think blueberries) can help keep you healthy, if not eternally young.
Nanomedicine: It sounds like science fiction, but the medical application of nanotechnology—the manipulation of matter on a microscopic scale—will soon be harnessed to treat age-related diseases. Nanostructures consisting of a few select atoms or molecules could be engineered to enter cells and perform various functions, from destroying viruses to repairing DNA damage.
calorie restriction: In many studies, researchers have found that several species, from mice to monkeys, live longer on calorierestricted diets. It’s thought that organisms can become stronger and more resilient—and resistant to age-related diseases—in a state of constant hunger, provided they maintain optimum micronutrient levels. Human studies are currently underway, and results aren’t yet in. Nor is there consensus on why calorie restriction increases life spans of other species. But many Americans are already pursuing calorie-restricted lifestyles, convinced it’s the key to longevity.
122 Candles: The oldest person on record is Jeanne Calment of Arles, France, who lived to122. Some experts believe the first person to crack 150 has already been born.
color me blue
Revealing the secrets of the longest-lived people in the world of the keys to their longevity. Interestingly, those who live to 100 are largely hale and healthy. Centenarians don’t often get sick, and when they do, they’re less likely to require expensive treatments—cardiac surgery, chemotherapy and the like—than their elderly, but slightly younger, peers. Most are mentally sharp, generally disability-free and an asset to their communities. Studying the blue zones (see four of them on map below) has confirmed that a non-smoking, physically active, largely vegetarian lifestyle is best. Eating nuts is key. Diets high in fruits, beans and tomatoes correlate with lower cancer rates, too. But perhaps the more interesting finding is that rich culture, tight community ties and a good ol’ fashioned positive attitude are equally important.
1. loma linda, U.S.
4. Okinawa, Japan
The people of this community 60 miles east of Los Angeles tend to eat mostly vegetables and legumes, and have strong community and family connections (see more above).
An island halfway between Taiwan and the Japanese mainland. The climate means year-round vegetables and daily doses of vitamin D from the sun, which traditional Okinawans typically get while tending their mugwort, ginger, turmeric, sweet potatoes and bitter melon.
Geography matters JAPAN 82.1 U.S. 78.1 CHINA 73.5 BRAZIL 72.0 RUSSIA 66.0
Your GPS coordinates may be as important as your genetic code in determining your chances of living a long life. Here’s a look at the average life expectancy in a handful of countries around the globe.
ways to improve your health right now
There’s no need to wait for medical miracles to increase your odds of living longer. Research is proving that our modern Western lifestyle is too stressful, too sedentary and filled with meals packed with unhealthy foods. According to the experts, a few simple lifestyle changes can add an estimated 10 good years to an average life span. Use your brain Go ahead and break out the Sudoku. Studies show that staying mentally active—even by playing card games— may help slow the onset of dementia.
Exercise your body A regular fitness regime leads to a healthy heart and limber limbs, along with countless other benefits. So get off the couch and boost your longevity with at least three 30-minute sweat-inducing workouts a week.
2. niCoya peninsula, Costa Rica Costa Rica’s remote Nicoya Peninsula is home to another blue zone. The Nicoyans are farmers who work hard in the fields and eat the traditional Mayan “milpa” triad—maize, beans and squash—as well as plenty of exotic jungle fruits rich in vitamin C, vegetable fats and antioxidants.
3. Sardinia, italy The herders in the Sardinian highlands are famously longlived, especially the men, who in most other cultures typically die before the women. They drink lots of red wine and goat’s milk, hike most of the day herding their flocks from one field to the next, and follow a diet consisting mostly of whole grain breads, beans, garden veggies and fruits.
Sixty miles east of Los Angeles is Loma Linda, Calif., as typical an American suburb as you get: freeways, fast food and easy access to shopping malls. However, it’s also a tight-knit community anchored by rich social connections, a deeper commitment to an active lifestyle and a healthy, largely vegetarian diet characteristic of the globe’s more traditional societies. The result is a group of people that enjoys a life expectancy nine to 11 years greater than other Americans and a designation as one of the world’s “blue zones,” pockets where remarkably high proportions of the population live to 100 and beyond. Researchers (most notably Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest) have been studying the lifestyles of these areas’ inhabitants to tease out some
Live with purpose Focus on your personal passions and positivity will work its way into all areas of your life, say the experts. Just wanting to be here can be enough to keep you in the game of life. Get a good night’s sleep That means you, workaholics. Getting at least seven hours of shut-eye a night will help you feel refreshed and youthful and may even prolong your life, according to some studies.
Eat less and better Stave off obesity and unclog your arteries by eating nutritious whole foods, including colorful fruits and vegetables and a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and whole grains. Cut back on portions, especially sugar-filled desserts.