Conventional wisdom has us believe that marvelous advances in modern medicine have lead to dramatic extensions of the average human lifespan and that even more dramatic bio/medical advances leading to near immortality are just around the corner.
But do these claims hold up to scrutiny?
One of the startling tidbits Dr. Bill Thomas recently shared on ChangingAging is the surprising fact that reductions in infant mortality have done more to increase the average human lifespan than advances in medical technology:
Average life expectancy in Roman times was much shorter than what we know today not because adults died young. The problem was that life expectancy at birth was very short. Only 50 per cent of those born saw their tenth birthday. In fact, members of Roman society who survived into old age experienced a life-span similar to our own. They did this WITHOUT access to modern medicine.
A similar claim caught my attention in this recent article in Psychology Today positing that paleolithic humans’ lifespan stretched well into the 80’s:
Please let go of the idea that paleolithic humans only lived to age 35 – that was an average life expectancy, but those who survived childhood and young adulthood were likely to live for a long time!
So even paleolithic humans, if they survived the rigors of childhood, lived into their 80’s… without modern medicine? Without Resveratol, HGH, and vitamin supplements? Inconceivable!
Or so you would think listening to the proponents of anti-aging longevity quackery. Not a day goes by that ChangingAging’s inbox isn’t flooded with one miracle anti-aging breakthrough or another promising longer life, smoother skin and a bigger you know what.
According to Global Industry Analysts, the U.S. market for anti-aging products is projected to increase from a staggering $80 billion per year to $114 billion by 2015, fueled by the 70-million strong post war generation:
Baby boomers heading into what used to be called retirement age are providing a 70 million-member strong market for legions of companies, entrepreneurs and cosmetic surgeons eager to capitalize on their “forever young” mindset, whether it’s through wrinkle creams, face-lifts or workout regimens.
It’s not just the boomer’s “forever young” mindset that is fueling this bonanza. Most of us have bought into the delusion that human longevity is increasing at a geometric rate thanks to advances in medical technology. On the contrary, there’s not a shred of evidence that any so-called anti-aging technology or treatment has ever reversed or slowed down aging in a single person (sadly, there is ample evidence that treatments such as human growth hormone (HGH) and hormone replacement therapy are quite harmful). In short, if you survive childhood and lead a moderately healthy life the single most important indicator of your longevity is genes (i.e. how long your parents and grandparents lived).
As the National Institute on Aging puts it:
“Our culture places great value on staying young, but aging is normal. Despite claims about pills or treatments that lead to endless youth, no treatments have been proven to slow or reverse the aging process.”
Instead, the Institute reports, the secret to longevity, whether you’re a paleolithic human, Roman or aging baby boomer is quite basic: Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and don’t smoke.