Mortality is the great equalizer. It is the single characteristic all human life has in common. As Jim Morrison said, “No one here gets out alive.” Although some embrace our mortality as a defining aspect of what it means to be human, the specter of death has haunted many since the origin of our species. We are now at a point in our technological development that some think that the ability to cheat death will soon be within our reach.
Over the past couple of years, Silicon Valley billionaires have collectively invested billions of dollars toward the quest for immortality. Research into finding the molecular equivalent of the fountain of youth is proceeding at a feverish pitch fueled by this massive influx of funding. Whether you agree with this goal from a moral or philosophical perspective, the scientific pursuit of extending the human life-span will likely result in new medical advances with carryover benefit to the treatment of devastating afflictions such as cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. On the other side of the coin, there would be significant downstream effects on world-wide society by extending the human life-span, including problems with overpopulation and dwindling natural resources just to name a few.
I am not posing the question for whether we should pursue life-span extension or not. That is a philosophical argument with many valid points of view. I do question the amount of money and resources that are being allocated for life extension research when most of us are not living even a normal human life span in good health. The majority of us have not maximized our health-span. This is readily apparent by even a cursory examination of the current state of public health with respect to chronic disease. Two-thirds of us are obese or overweight and preventable diseases such as diabetes have become the equivalent of modern plagues, spreading despite our best attempts at intervention. Our children are the most at risk, as the current generation is projected to be the first not to outlive their parents.
The Strong Medicine book was written with the aim of increasing the health-span of the general public through prevention. We aimed to empower people to live a life largely free of disease and with high physical function into old age. Even with the level of detail and breadth of subject matter in the book, they were still broad brush strokes and certainly not the end of the story for maximizing the human health-span.
There are many challenges to implementing an individualized program of “health-span optimization.” It is easy to tell someone to eat more locally-sourced organic fruits and vegetables, but hard for them to implement if they live in the “food deserts” found in many of our major cities. Regular intense exercise can be difficult for those with limited time due to seemingly endless demands of daily modern life, or for those impaired by injury or disability. There are also countless “techniques and tactics” on the Internet purported to be the magic bullet for achieving your health and fitness goals.
We will use the Maximizing the Health-Span (MHS) series to address challenges in individualized health-span optimization. We will also use the MHS series to put some of the latest and most popular health/fitness techniques and tactics to the test by looking under the hood and uncovering biologically plausible mechanisms and evidence of effectiveness.
In keeping with the mission of this blog, I not only welcome your comments, but encourage you to submit potential subjects of interest for future posts in the Maximizing the Health-Span series.
Stay tuned for the first post in the MHS series when we will examine the practice of intermittent fasting as a potential tactic for increasing the health-span. Start doing your own research on intermittent fasting now so we can have an informed discussion about the potential benefits and risks when the post goes live…
Chris Hardy, D.O., M.P.H., CSCS, is the author of Strong Medicine: How to Conquer Chronic Disease and Achieve Your Full Genetic Potential. He is a public-health physician, personal trainer, mountain biker, rock climber and guitarist. His passion is communicating science-based lifestyle information and recommendations in an easy-to-understand manner to empower the public in the fight against preventable chronic disease.