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3 ways I am re-framing life expectancy for a better outlook on longevity(PREMIUM)


8 DEC 2023

Remember being really young and learning for the first time this very scary concept that one day, no matter who we are, we are all going to die?

Me too.

At school it was some kind of graph about life expectancy, and you’re told there’s a general amount of years we can all expect to live to - I’m sure some defiance in my 8-year old mind that growing old only applies to other people and I will in fact live forever.

The way the concept it is circulated around us both as children and adults has always involved pointing to the obvious. For example, the century/decade you’re born in might impact how long you live - our great grandparents may have died naturally in their 70’s and 80’s, while our grandparents and parents are now dying in their 80’s and 90’s, and although in recent years we have seen life expectancy drop for the first time in modern history, it’s still pretty obvious that you’d expect future generations to continue to live longer.

We are also told the affluence of the country or area we live in is important, despite the ‘Blue Zones’ Netflix documentary showing that living beyond 100 can actually be very common within lower economically developed countries, providing there are the requisite features in that specific area which encourage longevity and happiness (we’ll touch on these soon).

As well as location, year of birth, inherited genes etc. which are hard to control, there are physical factors we have a high degree of control over which can make us the masters of our own destiny, like whether you drink or smoke, how much you exercise, diet quality, and the list goes on. But for me this all seems a bit too basic and boring. As a global society, we still aren’t getting it with longevity and not just ‘lifespan’, but the way more important ‘health span’.

With lifespan - we can judge that a person lived to 90. Great. But what if they spent the last 30 years of their life in pain, isolation and poor health? - the number tells us nothing about how much life they lived. Whereas with health span - the measurement is the ‘number of disease-free years lived’, a far more accurate way to assess whether those years were good ones. Research suggests that despite the historical rise in lifespan, the increase in health span has not been as dramatic as we might expect with all our scientific and technological advances.

So why the disconnect? How are we still getting it so wrong? People know smoking and alcohol kills and still do it (myself included with alcohol). My guess is that it’s down to us still being fundamentally broken as a society - we pass on trauma, misguide and mistrust the youth, and don’t carry out our duties to emphasise the importance of physical wellbeing, and the effects it has on every cornerstone of life.

Here are 3 different ways I now look at health span which they never told you about at school:

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