Life expectancy has changed through humanity’s history. While a lucky few may have bucked the trend (often those with money), generally lifespans were fairly paltry in comparison to today’s average expectancy currently hovering around 80. As centenarian numbers rise to record levels, it’s clear that the world is going to change, and more ‘older’ people will be alive than ever before. Although the 20th century bought enormous increases in life expectancy, it did so by focusing on quantity above quality – producing a rise in healthcare costs alongside a rise in years.
Now large older populations are a certainty and the older retirement model isn’t looking feasible, people have finally woken up to the fact we need to invest in healthspan as well as lifespan; adding healthy years rather than years of deteriorating quality of life. Previous efforts focused on specific maladies such as cancer or heart disease, without targeting the root causes of these ailments (essentially the aging process itself).
‘Most research assumes that chronic diseases arise and should be treated individually. What if, instead, aging is the root cause of many chronic diseases, and aging can be slowed?’
It’s also becoming apparent that we might soon hit a wall of maximum age – somewhere around 120. In order to extend years beyond that point, dietary and lifestyle choices are unlikely to produce substantial gains. After all, no matter how healthy a life your pooch lives, they’ll still pass away long before the average human consuming junk food and smoking. Clearly there are some fundamental biological factors at play here.
Whatever happens, larger older populations and the economic, social and political challenges around evolving demographics are going to lead to a social revolution, or evolution of sorts. Normality is going to shift for good and generational interplay could become quite different: there’s going to be a lot more grey in our workforce and raising families might become less central to life.
‘If health span extends, the nuclear family might be seen as less central. Bearing and raising children would no longer be the all-consuming life event.’
The exact effect of increasing lifespan and
healthspan will become apparent in time, but it offers a world of possibility as well as difficulty. Evolution may not have favoured longevity over fertility in a world of limited resources and danger around every corner, but today’s agriculture is managed ever more efficiently and population expansion actually appears to hit a plateau of sorts once a country becomes wealthier. If the social challenges are overcome, sustainable energy consumption is sorted and civilisation remodels itself, longevity could produce a forever changed and (perhaps) better world than we live in today.
Read more at The Atlantic