“There’s no rhyme or reason to this life. It’s days like today scattered among the rest.” ~ Marcus, John Wick
The search for longevity has been ever present since the beginning of time. Even then, the line was drawn between living longer or living better. It should be apparent that this is a false dichotomy. There are more options. With this logical fallacy, we are avoiding the middle ground of having both a long, AND, high quality of life.
Many factors come into play. The first one, mentioned by many, is genetics. Many like to stop right there and consider this the only factor. So Grandma, who lived to 97 with robust health is your yardstick. It allows you to ignore smoking, substance abuse and accidents as causal factors that shorten lives. This is myopic. There are many factors that come into play.
The difference between how long you live and how good those years are is defined as “Lifespan” vs “Healthspan”. Life and Health are also adjusted by sex, location, race and accidents. These factors won’t be part of the discussion, but understanding them is quite important. Realize that LUCK is part of this. Being born in a safe neighborhood will usually increase lifespan more than being born in a war torn, third world country.
“Do you feel lucky? Well do you, punk?” ~ Harry Callahan, Dirty Harry
According to the physician, Peter Attia, these factors are things you can do to alter longevity –
- Distress tolerance.
- Exogenous molecules (drugs, hormones, supplements)
Most everyone’s interest is in nutrition and exogenous molecules. XYZ “expert” takes antioxidants. The next expert takes Resveratrol, Nicotinamide Riboside and Metformin by the fistful. They both produce elegant and persuasive arguments through books, talk show appearances and podcasts. Whom do you believe?
The less than obvious answer is that this is the easiest thing to do. The easy way out. They don’t address exercise, long term change to diet, stress management strategies, organizing sleep or even avoiding accidents. Selling a book is less sexy when it’s about seatbelts, dental floss and sunscreen. Just among longevity scientists, there is a shocking asymmetry in application. For example, these longevity pioneers do not exercise –
- Laura Deming
- Aubrey de Grey
- David Sinclair
- Judith Campisi
They’d rather focus on research with the idea being that within their lifetime the technology will be found that prolongs both lifespan and healthspan. There may be a mention, but rarely a focus on stress management, long term dietary habits, sleep strategy or exercise protocol. That stuff is hard. The promise of so called, “biohacking”, is about selling unproven supplements and future technology. There is no profit in telling someone to go hiking and get a good night’s sleep. The thought of training to get stronger and more enduring sounds more difficult than telling everyone that you intermittent fasted and didn’t eat breakfast until noon.
The problem with cutting edge nutrition research is that it is done with rats and not humans. This is obviously about cost and efficiency. As well, TV news and internet news services love posting contradicting epidemiological studies that are contradicting as a form of click bait. Nutritional research is often, “iffy”, as well. Dr. Peter Attia calls it, “a pseudoscience that masquerades as a religion.” Jocko Podcast 56, Every week a new diet or nutritional supplement is introduced as the next biggest thing. One only has to go back to advertisements of the last decade to get a laugh at the nearly 100% of things that didn’t pan out.
The other issue with diet related studies is the bulk are epidemiological as mentioned above. There is a huge problem with this in terms of credibility and design. Those diets are often promoted on sensationalism, rather than science. They will promote some mythical village of people who live to be well over 100 years old and eat yogurt. There is a glaring problem with this. They really aren’t that age.
The bulk of data points to a ‘style’ of eating known as the “Mediterranean Diet”. This is a diet high in vegetables, lean protein, olive oil and whole grains. Again, take this with a grain of salt since studies where people have to remember and record food,…for years, can only be so good.
Moving on to another controllable factor, we enter the field of exercise. Exercise does many positive things. A very important one is maintaining lean body mass and bones. A huge part of aging is losing muscle. It is called, “age related sarcopenia”.
As you age, your muscles become smaller and weaker. Maintaining weight only means that there is an increase in the percentage of body fat, with no apparent gain on the scale. People will say that their body parts “dropped”, when in reality, their muscles got smaller and weaker as they got fatter. The remedy is both strength training and aerobic training. Aerobic training stimulates the heart in a positive manner and the adaptations are unique to aerobic training. As well, aerobics is the most efficient means to stimulate mitochondria development. Not food supplements or strength training.
Exercise and movement may be the biggest predictor of aging. Several studies show a more, robust, stronger person, ages more slowly. This strategy has the benefits of better well being and health markers as well. I’d certainly look harder at exercise rather than a handful of pills and a promise.
Another component that warrants awareness and proactivity is sleep. As we get older, sleep suffers, although the need for quality sleep does not change. While the need for a specific amount of sleep varies per person, attempting to improve it is certainly a positive action that can benefit life and health span. Sleep hygiene is a step most should take.
Distress Tolerance is defined as, “a person’s ability to manage actual or perceived emotional distress. It also involves being able to make it through an emotional incident without making it worse.” www.verywellmind.com This would include using such actions as substance abuse or suicide to deal with them. This is a very specific area of lifespan that should be addressed by specialized professionals. Most people are aware that mismanagement of stress shortens life. No surprise here.
Speed – “I suppose you’ve been down the long hard road?”
Chaney – “Who hasn’t?” ~ Hard Times
The last manageable area of aging is “exogenous molecules”. This is the area where most scientists and people put their money. Rather than manage what they can, they gamble on what could possibly be. Some areas like hormone replacement therapy are fairly well managed. Others still need to be researched but are adopted by many with weak or little long term evidence. Being human guinea pigs is fine with them. They have no problem with gulping down metformin or rapamycin, but can’t walk for an hour and do calisthenics. Let’s just say “caveat emptor” and be done with it. Be responsible for your own outcomes and weigh the evidence.
“If the rule you followed brought you to this, of what use was the rule?” ~ Chigurh, No Country For Old Men
To summarize and offer guidelines, let’s take each component that is controllable and look at them.
Accidents and High Risk Activity. This is beyond the list and is a broad realm. It also delves into some basic health maintenance.
- Dental Health, Flossing, Brushing
- Proper safety gear during labor or sports
- Awareness of danger
- One legged balance
- Ability to jump
- Don’t smoke
- Limit alcohol to 2 drinks per male and 1 drink to females daily
Nutrition. A broad category that is highly emotional. As stated earlier, the most evidence falls in the realm of the Mediterranean Diet. However that can widely vary. Many humans undereat protein since processed carbohydrates are easy to obtain, cost efficient and tasty. Protein is necessary to maintain and build lean body mass. It’s important for bone health as well. There is a rough figure of 2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight. This amount is greater in those dieting to lose body fat as well as those who are strength training. Calories are based on arriving at and maintaining optimal body fat percentage. 10 to 15% in men and 18-25% in women. The lower end of the scale will have you looking leaner and fitter. However too low as well as too high have health risks. Reducing fat is a two pronged approach to extending life. With increasing age our muscles get weaker and smaller. Our body fat gets more abundant. So by reducing your body fat you are increasing your vital years.
Exercise. Movement or exercise is a most valuable tool. It is the cheapest antidepressant, a wonderful stress reducer, normalizes many health markers and keeps muscles strong and developed. That is just some of the benefits of resistance training. Aerobic exercises stretches the heart muscle and improves work capacity. It also reduces stress, can improve sleep and reduce cardiovascular risk. Longevity is powerfully predicted by physical strength and movement. The discussion of longevity or life extension is hollow without the implementation of proper exercise.
Sleep. Follow the guidelines in the link above. Sleep requirements vary, but are generally listed at 7-9 hours per night. If you are getting much less, you are reducing your life expectancy.
Stress Management. “Distress Tolerance” is something that should never be taken lightly. Seek the best professional resources in times of stress.
Exogenous Molecules. The largely unregulated world of food supplements is in bed with the pharmaceutical companies. So they are essentially the same.
“The very same mega-companies with gigantic chemical labs that make drugs are cooking up vitamin and herbal supplements labeled with sunny terms like ‘natural’ and ‘wholesome.’ Pfizer, Unilever, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and other big pharmaceutical firms make or sell supplements.” While she does acknowledge there are a few small companies still in the mix, Parramore says they represent a tiny amount of the total sales in the $23 billion-a-year supplement business.”
So rather than moralize about where you get your food supplements, let’s just isolate the ones that have the most supportive evidence for their use.
- Protein supplements used to increase total protein consumption. Normally made from whey, casein, egg and vegan sources.
- Fish Oil in the form of EPA/DHA
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin D. – Do not rely on baking your skin to a rhino hide texture with the excuse of “getting your vitamin D”. Get your blood levels checked and supplement properly. Some surfers even have low vitamin D levels.
The next category of endogenous molecules would be hormones or more commonly put as hormone replacement therapy. As we age our level of hormones drops. By replacing them to optimal levels we can retain our youthful vitality and sexuality. Please seek the best advice on HRT and avoid physicians who treat numbers rather than humans.
That leaves drugs like rapamycin and metformin, which are still being researched for life extending qualities. They may or may not be a good bet.
“Always bet on black.” ~ John Cutter, Passenger 57
As we come full circle, you have to ask yourself if you want to live long, live well or do both. Extending your healthspan might involve smart eating and avoiding weekly binges of Moon Pie Crunch Ice Cream. It means being active by practicing both aerobic and resistance training, avoiding accidents and hopefully injuries. Being aware of danger and hopefully having a bit of luck and good genes helps too. The video that follows shows a stunt fight between someone born in 1946 and someone born in 1964. Proper diet, exercise, hormone replacement therapy and luck, help their participation. As an anecdote, note that their fight is choreographed by John Wick director Chad Stahelski, working as the stunt coordinator. Pay attention to the injuries too. Aging injures and injury ages.
Tom Furman has been involved in martial arts and conditioning since 1972. With an early background in wrestling and a student of the methods of the York Barbell Club, Tom immediately separated fact from fiction growing up outside Pittsburgh. Eleven members of his family were combat veterans, the most famous one being “Uncle Charlie” (Charles Bronson) His down to earth training methods are derived from his decades long practice of martial arts and his study of exercise science. The application of force, improvement of movement and durability rank high on his list of priorities when training. He gives credit to hundreds of hours of seminars, training sessions, and ‘backyard’ workouts, including training time with many martial arts legends. He also credits his incredibly gifted training partners who came from varied backgrounds such as Exercise Physiologists, Airborne Rangers, Bounty Hunters, Boxing Trainers and Coast Guard Rescue Divers. His best selling ebook, “Armor of War’’, is available at tomfurman.com. His guide to mobility, “Bamboo Gods, Iron Men and Rubber Bands’’, is available on Amazon.