We are all programmed to die one day. How many tomorrows each one of us will see, no crystal ball can tell. People can survive for decades with terminal diseases. In the world, a little over 53,000 people die every day, and about two-thirds die of age-related diseases. In developed nations, nearly 90% of people, due to improved medical facilities and greater awareness of health, die of conditions and complications related to the natural aging process. Our average lifespan is determined both by vulnerability to accidents, and geriatric or lifestyle conditions such as cardiac diseases, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and lung diseases. Thanks to improved living conditions and medical interventions, people can now slow the aging process. We can better treat some of the leading causes of death, impacting how long we live. Longevity and healthcare are intimately linked. Some see death, while inevitable, as a condition to be indefinitely avoided.
There are many effective ways by which we can manage our aging speed. Depending upon our lifestyle choices, in a single decade we can age by fifteen years or just seven years. Obviously, some age much faster than others. Many age-related physical symptoms become very prominent in some people while in others they appear quite later. As we age, many start witnessing increased fatigue, weakened bones, and ill health ; we start observing wrinkles, age spots, and sagging skin. Aging is an outcome of complex changes in our normal biological functions.
There are many reasons why we age. However, three well-established triggers of the aging process are, first, shortening of telomeres, the tip at each end of chromosomes in our cells ; second, deterioration of the mechanism that repairs damage to DNA;; and lastly, accumulation of free radicals in the body. When cells divide chromosomes are replicated and each daughter cell inherits an identical pair. Chromosomes are thread-like very minute structures located inside the nucleus of cells. Each chromosome is made of protein and a single molecule of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
Telomeres make sure that the DNA gets copied properly when cells divide. Each time a cell copies itself, the DNA stays the same but the telomeres get shorter. A time comes when telomeres get too short to do their job, causing our cells to age and stop functioning properly. Therefore, telomeres act as the aging clock in every cell. Once telomere length reaches a particular cut-off point, the cell can no longer divide and eventually it dies. How telomeres work and why some people age faster than others still needs to be answered by scientists. Further, as we age, the environment and normal cellular processes cause damage to our genes. This damage compounds over the course of life and is known to accelerate aging. Regarding free radical theory, many of the changes that occur as our bodies’ age are caused by free radicals. Damage to DNA, protein cross-linking, and some other changes are attributed to free radicals. Over time, this damage accumulates, resulting in aging.
Death and the process of dying is one of the most fascinating areas of research. Many institutions across the world are studying this subject to delay and possibly even defeat this process. Death will be “optional” within just 25 years, and the aging process will be “reversible,” according to two genetic engineers, José Luis Cordeiro and David Wood. Their book, The Death of Death, asserts that “immortality is a real and scientific possibility that could come much earlier than originally thought. Humans will die only in accidents, never of natural causes or illness, by around the year 2045.” They further maintain that “Old age starts to be classified as an ‘illness’ so that publicly funded research into its ‘cure’ can extend.” Cordeiro, who is based at MIT in the USA, says he has “chosen not to die” and that in 30 years’ time, he will be “younger” than he is today. There is no denying the possibility that that time may come sooner, rather than later.
That we have tremendous power to slow down our aging process is not commonly known. Many variables that influence how long we live can be altered. In this age of social media, plenty of videos go viral every day in which 90-plus people are dancing, running marathons, and many other activities which we generally don’t expect at that age. The actions we can take to increase our odds of a longer and more satisfying lifetime are really quite simple. Every day, new research is published on how to slow down aging.
The first and the foremost requirement for longevity is that we remain active throughout life. One undisputed fact about the modern lifestyle is that we humans are becoming less and less active. The majority still don’t move or walk sufficiently during the day. Insufficient physical activity is a leading risk for many lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes, heart and lung diseases, and cancer, and has a negative effect on mental health and quality of life.
In fact, people in India are among the world’s laziest, taking an average of 4297 steps in a day, compared to the world average of about 5,000 steps. Out of 46 countries, India’s rank is 39th. For a healthy life, we should take at least 10,000 steps a day. Most of the workday, as we know, is spent sitting for up to 8-9 hours a day — highly harmful for our health. Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released a report ranking countries based on how physically active their citizens are. Surprisingly, India ranked 117 in the list of 168 nations, with 34% of our population being far too sedentary. Medical science agrees: there is no substitute for physical exercise for those seeking a long and healthy life. Also weighing in on longevity-friendly measures, Harvard Medical School, USA, outlines the following five mandatory actions (other than the obvious avoidance of smoking):
A Johns Hopkins-led study of 6,200 men and women over years found that those who adopted four smart behaviours reduced their chance of death from all causes within that time frame by an astounding 80 percent. How to live longer? Here are those four factors, all within our control:
The study found that the healthiest people followed a Mediterranean-style diet. That means a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, tree nuts with healthy oils, fish (and less red meats), whole-grain carbs and olive oil for cooking.
Over and above all, meditation also helps in slowing the aging process. As we have seen earlier, the shortening of telomeres is the main physical reason behind aging, and one of the main reasons behind this shortening is mental stress. Numerous studies have established that meditation practice helps reduce mental stress to a great extent. Stress is one of the greatest contributors to lifestyle diseases, the most outstanding being obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular ills.