The average lifespan in the U.S. is now up to 78.7 years (81.2 for women vs 76.2 for men) according to the latest data. We are already living longer, and with advances in medical care on the horizon, lifespan is expected to increase even further. In a recent Pew survey, most respondents said they would like to live longer – but only about a decade more. The median response for the desired lifespan was age 90, with a normal range being seen as 79 to 100. The big surprise was that most people did not want to live to 120 or beyond…
Earlier this month I had another birthday – the big 45. Granted, it’s not a decade birthday like the big 40 or the bigger 50 (let alone the epic 100). Nevertheless it’s still a milestone birthday. Those birthdays always get you thinking, don’t they?
The thought that popped into my head this time was, at 45, that would put me at the half way point of my life, if my goal for longevity were the same as the average American’s.
But living only to 90 is not my goal.
I’ve always wanted to live as long as a human can live. Why wouldn’t that be everyone’s goal? Personal development icon Jim Rohn once said, “Every life form seems to strive to its maximum except human beings. How tall does a tree grow? As tall as it possibly can!”
Having heard that people have lived to 120, I’ve always had a goal that I will live to 120, or right up to what is biologically possible. Then a few years ago, a brilliant coach and mentor convinced me that my goal should be 140. Seriously, I really do have a goal card I carry in my pocket with “live to a strong and healthy 140” in writing.
People ask me, “What if you die sooner?” Well, if I come up a little short, 130 is not so bad is it? Neither is 120 for that matter. And the truth is, I have no ideal how long I will live. But I figure you have close to zero percent chance of 120 if you don’t at least make that your intention. I believe that’s secret number one to a long life – you have to want it first, then believe it and expect it.
Anyway, on the day of my 45th birthday this month, I guess my radar was turned on for “aging” because an associated press story (where I read about the Pew survey) caught my attention, even though I don’t read the news that much.
It was called “Aging America: will you live to 120? Do you want to? It turns out, most people don’t want to live to 120. I found that peculiar, though not all that surprising. But what did shock me was the reasons why the survey respondents said they didn’t want to live that long.
First they said that the rapidly graying population is bringing concerns about the growth of Alzheimer’s, and with an overburdened Medicare system, we shouldn’t be surprised that there’s concern about the idea of living longer.
To me, that’s not convincing. We don’t control our genes, but we can control our behavior and our lifestyle. The problem is, most people don’t. Most people are profoundly sedentary and eat a horrible junk food diet, so their susceptible genes clash with their unhealthy lifestyle – a disease-producing or deadly combination.
Just remember, your genes indicate a predisposition, not a predestination.
It’s not easy, but it’s a simple proposition to control your destiny: do everything in your power to live a healthy lifestyle – nutrition, exercise, self-care and nurturing a positive psychology. This way, even if you believe you’re one of those “genetic time bombs” (you have the family history and risk factors), you can rest easier knowing that your risk of age-related disease is as low as it can be.
Another reason mentioned in the survey is that some people think we shouldn’t try to live longer because our planet won’t have the resources to support the growing population. I wouldn’t be so sure. As long as humans continue to be resourceful, we will never run out of resources…
In his book Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think, Peter Diamandis breaks down human needs into categories including water, food, energy, health care and education, then shows how thought leaders, innovators and social entrepreneurs are making strides in every area. Technophilanthropists are offering multi-million dollar prizes in global crowdsourcing contests, incentivizing the brightest minds on the planet to work on projects to improve our quality of life and solve many of the problems facing society today. These people are awesome. So I’m not worried.
Why else did survey participants say they wouldn’t want to live longer? One, a 24-year old female, said, “It depends if I’m able to move, or if I’m stuck in rocking chair.” I can appreciate that. But shouldn’t it be a foregone conclusion that we don’t want to live longer if those extra years are spent frail, decrepit, bedridden, nonfunctional, and a burden on others?
It’s not just about how long we live, it’s about how long we live with health and strength and vibrancy and independence. That’s called health span and health span is where our focus needs to shift – away from simply “more years” and toward “more strong and healthy years,” and on taking the action steps every day to make that happen.
There is no reason you have to end up in a rocking chair or retirement home at 90 or even 120. It’s sad that a 24-year old’s belief system includes this as a future possibility, though it’s understandable. Belief systems are formed by the thought patterns and paradigms of the family and society we are brought up in. But no one controls your thinking but you, and as an adult, it’s within your power to de-program yourself from limiting beliefs that you acquired as a child. It begins with a conscious decision.
Many people have made the decision and fully embraced this idea of living the longest life possible, but they pursue it the wrong way. They give in to the snake oil salesmen with their “anti-aging” pills or they’re charmed by the promise of advances in medicine alone being able to extend their life. They have no intention of changing their lifestyles, they are hoping that a visit to the clinic will work some kind of magic for them. Almost all the discussion about “Life extension” today focuses on what medical breakthroughs will happen in the future while we are still alive.
The pursuit of the fountain of youth has come in other odd forms as well. Calorie restriction for life extension is one I find the most bizarre. Practitioners are starving themselves into skeletons, eating a third less food than they should be, hoping that the reduced food intake will extend their life the way it has in studies on worms, flies and mice. News flash: people are not insects or rodents. Read my expose on calorie restriction for life extension to see why this approach is misguided.
Why will people go to such lengths as to starve themselves silly, pop 50 pills a day, stick themselves with needles full of hormones or wait and pray for a miracle gene therapy, but they won’t change the simple behaviors that really make all the difference? It’s because lifestyle change is hard, so the search for youth in a pill or bottle continues.
This is such a shame because there’s another “secret” to living long and strong. The catch is, it’s only available to people who are willing to make changes and work hard now in exchange for a better future..
The true fountain of youth is already here.
I was lucky to discover this at a very young age.
When I was 14 years old, after I first got hooked on bodybuilding, I remember seeing something in Muscle and Fitness magazine that made an impression on me that has lasted to this day. It was the story of a pro bodybuilder named Al Beckles, who placed 2nd in the Mr. Olympia competition at the age of 55. “Ageless Al” as they called him, had a physique better than most of the younger champions in their 20’s or 30’s.
At that moment a new belief system was burned into my subconscious mind: “So that’s what muscle-building will do for you – the bodybuilding lifestyle is the fountain of youth.” I grew up with that belief.
The publisher of the magazine, Joe Weider, wrote countless editorials over the years saying the same thing: “Bodybuilding is the fountain of youth,” reinforcing the idea in my brain. 31 years later, I still believe this to be true, having seen myself and countless others take 10 or even 20 years off their biological age and keep getting stronger with each passing decade, through resistance training and “the bodybuilding lifestyle.”
After enjoying incredible popularity in the heyday of Arnold, through the 1980’s, 1990’s and into the 2000’s, over the last decade, bodybuilding has been criticized as often as praised, with many claiming that it’s not healthy after all – “It only looks healthy on the surface because of the great bodies.”
It’s true that many of the pros do things that are unhealthy and unsustainable. But I don’t condone that “take anything” or “do anything” to win philosophy. Bodybuilding is not just a competitive sport, it’s a way of life, and bodybuilding is the healthiest lifestyle you could choose – physically and psychologically – when it’s done the way the real heroes of physical culture intended it: naturally, and for both form and function.
by Tom Venuto