A Bright Future, Absent Grim Clouds, But Up to Us to Make it Golden

Below you'll see optimism on the topic of longevity and the future, personal and otherwise, from the establishment political press, which is an unusual enough event to be worthy of remark. These are well-written general interest articles that don't look far beyond a high level overview of economics and exercise, so your mileage may vary - they don't touch on any of the more earnest scientific work on aging and rejuvenation such as SENS, for example. But take a look and see what you think:

Longevity: a Manual

"Genes account for one-fourth to one-third of longevity," estimated Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California (Riverside) and the coauthor of The Longevity Project, published this year. "That leaves well over half not accounted for."

Most of the rest, for better or worse, is up to you. "The importance of choices people make is in so many ways responsible for the quality of life in old age," said Charles Reynolds III, a professor of geriatric psychiatry, neurology, and neuroscience at the University of Pittsburgh medical school. "Many people think they should be entitled to a good-quality 25 years after age 60. Well, they're not necessarily entitled, but they can put the odds in their favor."

One way - "the least speculative and the most obvious" - is with exercise, according to Simon Melov, a Buck Institute biochemist. "More activity is better than no activity, and most people are not doing anything. They're just sitting there." Exercise, he said, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and perhaps even a decline in cognition. One needn't run a marathon. Gardening, walking, swimming, woodworking - all of these are more active than just sitting.

No, Malthus, No: Living Longer Is a Blessing, Not a Curse

Long life may well be a blessing for the individual. But is it also a blessing for society? The fashionable answer is an increasingly anxious no. Choose your apocalyptic metaphor. The aging of America represents a "financial time bomb," The New York Times has proclaimed - with the solvency of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid (the last in line for nursing-home payments for patients who have depleted their assets) all at risk. Foreign Policy magazine has warned that a "gray tsunami is sweeping the planet," the United States included.

And yet the forecast that Americans' increased longevity is a collective downer for the nation ain't necessarily so. The fiscal threat, while real, provides too narrow a prism for understanding a question so complex. History suggests that the size of the total economic pie tends to grow larger as life expectancy rises. From 1950 to 2010, Americans' life expectancy at birth grew by 15 percent and, at age 65, by more than 30 percent - even as household incomes and the gross domestic product increased sixfold.

So, as counterintuitive as this may sound, it is possible, even likely - listen up, worrywarts! - for Americans to live longer and grow richer.

In fact the weight of evidence points strongly towards longevity and wealth moving hand in hand, influencing one another. People with longer time horizons make better decisions for the stewardship of resources, while at the same time increasing wealth means better medicine - more research, improved medicine, greater ability to purchase medical services, and so forth. See these items from the Fight Aging! archives, for example:

Arguing against this view on the basis of the evidence is actually a pretty steep cliff to climb (not that that seems to stop the naysayers). Empires fall and regions become poor for all sorts of reasons, and the US is on the way to a sad end itself, but increasing life expectancy and growth in wealth are not amongst the causes.

Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.