A Strategy for Doing Longevity for the Common Person
Part 1: Top 9 Things in Your Defensive Strategy
Richard is dead. Caught pneumonia and died a few days later. Probably all those cigars. No need to mourn. At 112, why mourn the death? Heck, you call him a lucky stiff and marvel at his astonishingly long life.
That’s him around his 110th birthday sitting on his front porch. He’s still living in the same house he bought in 1945 and still driving his old pickup truck (having just renewed his license … yet again). He lives mostly pain-free and disease-free.
You can check him out in this short 2016 documentary and hear him offer up his unique longevity advice with a dose of whimsey and a twinkle in his eye. Who am I to argue with living proof, but really? Cigars, whisky and ice cream?
A friend of mine sent me Richard’s story in response to an article of mine published on Medium: Stop Doing These 7 Things if You Want to Live to 100. My friend, in his droll way, was saying, “yeah Gord, but what about Richard here? Your ‘7 Things’ make no mention of cigars, whisky or ice cream?” All I can say is Richard got lucky and won the longevity lottery. But I’m not interested in luck. I’m interested in the kind of longevity that I can work at. I’m with Thomas Jefferson who said …
“ I’m a great believer in luck. The harder I work, the luckier I get. “
Thomas Jefferson … among others
I’m interested in the practical things we can implement based on science and current research. Furthermore, anything that promotes longevity by all definitions will be good for your health and fitness at any age. That’s got to be the best twofer going. And that’s what this series of articles is all about. A practical strategy for anyone that wants to address their own longevity in a deliberate and implementable way.
Call it … Doing Longevity.
As for the life and death of Richard, he had two things that we all aspire to have;
- A good life. Most of the elements that make for a successful longevity and a successful life:
— freedom from diseases and pain;
— ongoing functional health both mental and physical;
— a happy and contented disposition towards life;
— a rewarding social circle.
- A good death. Richard’s ultimate win was avoiding the chronic diseases of ageing — but more on that below.
Life Expectancy Has Never Been Better
Here’s an astonishing fact. The global population of centenarians (people over 100) is expected to grow by a whopping 800% over the next 30 years to around 4 million people. That’s at a time when the overall global population is expected to grow by a mere 135%. Indeed, people over 65 make up the fastest growing demographic on the globe. And with the population at the top end exploding, research into the science of ageing is flourishing. We’ve come into a golden age of longevity. Lucky us.
The study of longevity is in the early stages of uncovering the factors that make for or inhibit a long life and that confer upon us ongoing functional capabilities as we age. Centenarians in particular are the subjects of intense interest. Particularly healthy ones. Why do people like Richard maintain functional and cognitive health throughout their long lives while others fall apart in their 60s or even earlier? What we’re learning is encouraging for all of us. In particular, our genes — over which we have little control — play a subservient role to lifestyle factors over which we have a good deal of control. That’s great news. Furthermore, any role that genes do play can be influenced by lifestyle and environmental factors. We are learning a lot from the science of epigenetics about how we can influence gene expression to our advantage (for example, how diet can influence gene expression). You have a compelling reason to make your own longevity a deliberate strategy rather than leaving it to chance. And that’s what I’m all about in these articles.
Let’s look at dying. After all, longevity is really all about dying. Everyone on the planet shares one certainty; a 100% chance of dying. We achieve longevity by sufficiently delaying death. And we achieve a happy and healthy longevity by avoiding diseases. Richard had a good longevity because he managed to accomplish both those things.
Dying Fast or Dying Slow — Where You Live Matters
The following table lists the leading causes of death comparing countries with the longest lifespans to those with the shortest lifespans.
Dying Fast When Lifespan is Short
In countries with the shortest lifespans, the leading causes of death have some of the following characteristics.
- They Are Maladies That Attack From the Outside. Bacteria, viruses and parasites. Things you catch from dirty water and unsanitary conditions or from animals and insects and other people.
- Age and Health Don’t Matter. They hit young and old, healthy and sick.
- Hit and Run Killers. Typically sudden and unexpected. You’re hit and you’re dead. Without immediate medical treatment either you die fast or you’re lucky and recover or are left with long-term after-effects.
- Modern Medicine Has Defeated Most of These “Fast Killers” It’s the lack of access to quality medical services that defines the stark divide between rich and poor. Other factors serve to exacerbate this as well; an unsafe environment, insufficient food, poor infrastructure, etc.
- Historically Common. As it turns out, these ways of dying were the norm everywhere prior to the modern era.
Dying Slow When Lifespan Is Long
In countries with the longest lifespans, the leading causes of death look very different and have the following characteristics.
- Modern Medicine to the Rescue. Access to a modern effective medical infrastructure means that those fast killers are treated as a matter of course and kill much less frequently allowing many more young people to live into old age. We’ve almost forgotten some of those dreaded but common killers of the past — smallpox, polio, measles, whooping cough — thanks to modern medicine, routine vaccine treatments and antibiotics.
- Introducing Chronic Diseases of Ageing. With so many common killers of children and young adults tossed to the dustbin of history, many more people than ever reach their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. Everyone will still die, of course. But now it’s the chronic diseases of ageing that have moved to the top of the killer leaderboard.
- Development Starts Eary. Although diagnosed in older people, these chronic conditions generally have antecedents that go back decades. Plaque build-up in the arteries of teens has been observed well before any noticeable effects. Heart disease is the world’s number one killer. But it doesn’t kill the young. In fact, it might take an unexpected snowfall and heavy shovelling event in middle age to result in a surprise visit to emerg at which point the decades of arterial buildup finally gets diagnosed as arterial sclerosis.
- Glacial Progress Goes Unnoticed. Because these chronic diseases progress so slowly, you may be unaware of how you are gradually adapting. You started to become less active because it’s getting uncomfortable to do some of the things you had been doing. And gradually you become more sedentary. As your arteries become constricted and your cardiovascular capacity degrades, you simply feel more and more like “taking it easy”. After all, you tell yourself “I’m not getting any younger.” And that’s your red flag right there. You are making excuses and adapting to a silently developing condition — and giving yourself a pass to ignore it … at your peril.
- Chronic Diseases Travel in Groups. Once one is diagnosed, others are usually lingering in the woodwork. Examples;
> A leading cause of Alzheimer’s is -> heart disease.
> A leading cause of heart disease is -> diabetes.
> A leading cause of diabetes is -> kidney disease.
> A leading cause of kidney disease is -> heart disease.
This network of cause and effect relationships amongst chronic diseases points to common underlying factors; of which a primary factor is chronic inflammation. More on that shortly.
- Growing Old Does NOT Cause Chronic Disease. Using ageing as a cause sends the signal that it’s inevitable and that you have no control. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is often lifestyle that is the cause. A lifelong poor diet could be causing plaque to build up in the arteries or on your brain which only manifests itself after many years.
- Modern Medicine — The Good and the Bad. A host of medical protocols and pharmaceutical treatments are used to manage evolving symptoms. But treatments can have their own side effects that require additional protocols or pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, treatments often focus on reducing the symptoms to keep the condition under control while the root causes are often given a minor focus because they don’t involve medical interventions but rather behavioural changes.
- Inflammation the Root Cause. Chronic diseases afflict you from the inside rather than the “fast killers” that attack from the outside. And chronic inflammation is at the root of most chronic conditions. It’s Lifestyle factors that lead to ongoing chronic inflammation that in turn leads to chronic conditions that manifest as disease.
And that’s how slow dying in the modern world looks. A double-edged sword if there ever was one. On the one hand, you should be grateful for the modern medical system which gives you protection from the hit-and-run killers of the past. But you’re left with the leisurely luxury of living a long life because you can be kept alive even if you’re dying slowly of chronic diseases that erode your mind and degrade your body. It doesn’t have to be that way.
The best of both worlds is to extend life through modern medicine while avoiding the debilitating effects of chronic disease.
Practical Longevity — Your Defensive Strategy & Your Offensive Strategy
Peter Attia, a leading physician focussing on the applied science of longevity defines ideal longevity as comprising two integrated factors: your life span which is the avoidance of chronic diseases and your health span which is maintaining a high degree of functional capabilities both physical and mental.
In other words, longevity isn’t just about living to 100. The ideal longevity means enjoying a long life (lifespan) along with a good quality of life (healthspan). You’ve gotta have both. One without the other is no longevity.
I call these the two tactics to a practical longevity …
- Your Defensive Strategy (Healthspan) Those things you must do to avoid the onset of chronic diseases and conditions that erode your quality of life and rob you of your future by starting the process of dying well before death. Hello nursing home.
The main topic of this article.
- Your Offensive Strategy (Lifespan) Those things you can do to maximize the number of years that your body and mind continue to function within their appropriate capabilities.
The subjects of future articles.
Curb The Inflammation — A Key to Your Defensive Longevity Strategy
It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.
— Hans Selye
Stress and Inflammation go hand in hand. And both can be good or bad. Stress is necessary for a healthy fit body to operate at peak performance. Both mental stress and physical stress. A cut on the finger, for example, will result in good inflammation that aids the healing process. Similarly, resistance training will cause muscle tear inflammation which heals to form stronger muscles.
However, when stress becomes chronic, that’s when it gets ugly. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation wreaks havoc on your system; your hormones get out of whack; your biological functions go awry; your immunity gets hammered; you undergo accelerated ageing; oxidative damage arouses all kinds of health issues and ultimately the chronic diseases of ageing become your companion — possibly for life (and death).
Chronic stress and inflammation link to so many unwanted outcomes that they become the primary target of your defensive longevity strategy.
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Practical Longevity Part 1 — Your Defensive Strategy
The defensive strategy is all about slowing or eliminating the sources of inflammation.
Here’s how to use this strategy. Begin in order at the first item and move down. If an item doesn’t apply to you, great, next item. I’ve structured this so that you are best off dealing with a previous item before moving on because it may have an impact on others along the way. Each point has a brief description. And for anyone interested in a bit more background, I’ve included a paragraph or two as a “Rationale”.
1. Chronic Stress and Anxiety.
Rid your life of chronic stress. You may not have complete control of the stressors, but you can have a good measure of control over your own reactions to them.
There’s a reason this is at the top. Our modern world has given a large proportion of the population chronic stress in the form of mental and emotional burdens as an unwelcome companion. If you don’t deal with this one, you diminish the impact of whatever else you do to enhance your longevity and avoid disease.
This is not my area of expertise so I can’t be terribly helpful. But trust me, the remaining things on the list will come easier if you deal with this one first.
Rationale: A constant state of stress and/or anxiety will eventually manifest itself into physical maladies. Some of them are internal such as gastrointestinal, headaches and arthritis. Some of them are visible such as eczema, psoriasis, acne and rosacea. Some of them are invisible such as high blood pressure. But the link is so well established that if you visit any of the official sites for chronic diseases such as Heart Disease, Alzheimer’s and Diabetes you will find stress listed as a leading cause.
If you’re lucky, you’re able to put your finger on the source(s) of your own chronic stress. It may be something external like a toxic boss or an unhealthy relationship. It may be something internal such as past trauma scars. You have two approaches to chronic stress.
(a) Eliminate. Rid your life of the source of chronic stress. Sometimes you have to be brutally firm about it because chronic stress will kill you and compromise your future health in the meantime.
(b) Manage. Most stress is mental or emotional and will not kill you directly. It’s your reaction to it and the afterburn it causes that will. If you need professional help, seek it out. There are lots of self-help techniques as well: various meditation practises, Stoicm, exercising, praying including a host of spiritual and religious practices.
A warning. You may be someone who is unaware of the stress that is affecting them. It often arises from fears — real or imagined — that ingrain themselves deeply into a person’s psyche. Or it may come from abuse as a child. Symptoms of anxiety include problems sleeping, edginess, feelings of being out of control, inability to manage relationships and more. Many people mask anxiety with unhealthy lifestyle behaviours which then result in their own set of stresses; over-eating, gambling, over-sexing. In some cases, you may need professional counselling. In most cases, your best bet is to get to the root of your own fears and stressors and find ways to control your mind and emotions.
One last note; in some cases, a feedback loop gets set up which compounds the problem. Stress causes inflammation. But then, the inflammation causes more stress which gets expressed as more inflammation and so on. A smoker experiencing health issues becomes anxious about both the health issues and their unsuccessful desire to quit. Smoking causes inflammation and the anxiety felt by the smoker causes further inflammation.
Do I even have to explain this one? This is a leading cause for any number of chronic conditions and for some conditions — lung cancer, for example — smokers are overwhelmingly afflicted and this has been an uncontested fact for decades. For example, if you don’t smoke you almost completely eliminate your risk of getting the most common form of cancer and you reduce your risks of many other forms of cancer.
Rationale: The evidence is unequivocal. Quitting will not only mitigate a future of debilitating health conditions but will immediately add years to your life. It’s that simple. Well, maybe not that simple for those that have tried and failed to quit, but keep at it until you find what works for you. The benefits of quitting are outstanding and visceral. Smoking accelerates ageing and robs you of your youth and vigour along the way and almost guarantees an early onset of chronic conditions. To top it off, you have to pay big bucks for the privilege of acquiring future diseases and unnatural ageing. Nuff said.
You don’t even have to get down to “normal” weight. But if you are obese, getting rid of any amount of extra fat reduces your inflammation immediately.
Rationale: It’s true that you can be quite healthy even if you are obese. But the evidence is quite clear that obesity is unequivocally implicated in many health conditions and overall life expectancy. Never settle for being healthy today if your future is at stake.
Obesity is the overabundance of adipose (fat) tissue which leads to adipose tissue dysfunction which results in triggering the release of pro-inflammatory signalling molecules that are implicated in several chronic diseases of ageing — heart disease, Alzheimer’s. diabetes, stroke and many others.
Seek to normalize your weight, whatever that is for you. I don’t like to suggest losing weight or going on a diet because it sends the wrong message. Don’t diet. Rather, get yourself on a new and healthy life-long eating pattern that works for you and results in a gradual movement to a normal weight.
Often an obese person has a metabolism that has gotten out of whack. But the human body is wonderfully adaptable even at an advanced age. Unless you have a professionally diagnosed medical condition (which should be treated) anyone can move back towards their own healthiest size by implementing some deliberate new habits and a bit of time. Patience is important here. Be aware that normalized doesn’t mean population average or some BMI number. It just means whatever is appropriate for your body. It may still appear overweight to you if you’re hard on yourself. But that may be the healthiest state to be in.
First, eliminate added sugars. Ditch the sugar bowl. Then ditch the soda drinks and other high sugar foods. Fruit juices are only slightly less objectionable than sodas. Eat whole fruits instead, which retain things like fibre. Then make a habit of reading labels and recognizing the sugars — of which there are dozens of terms.
Rationale: The sun drives all life on the planet. And it is the plant life through photosynthesis that converts that precious energy from the sun into glucose — which in turn is the source of energy for humans and all life. So how can sugar be bad? Shouldn’t we be eating it by the spoonful? (After all, table sugar is simply glucose + fructose). Nope. It’s a whole lot more complicated than most people even imagine. Our bodies have evolved to metabolize almost anything we eat into glucose if required. Any carbs are broken down into simple sugars. And both fat and protein can be converted to glucose through glucogenesis.
Over the past decade, the evidence implicating sugar has become unequivocal. In very small doses, sugar is a wonderful treat. Sugar for most of our evolution has been very limited in availability. But we have sugar abundance in our modern diet that is many times greater than how our bodies have evolved to process it. It wreaks havoc with your gut biome by reducing beneficial bacteria, increasing pathogenic bacteria and promoting leaky gut. It upsets your natural insulin balance by promoting insulin and leptin resistance leading directly to fat accumulation. Sugar is now implicated as the main driver of metabolic disorders and obesity that we see today and by extension to chronic inflammation in our bodies.
Sugar would be easy to eliminate from your diet if it weren’t so damn addictive. And make no mistake, it’s addictive. But eliminate it you must. The real issue with sugar is that is it hidden in so many foods including foods you would not expect such as processed meats. The good news is that modern labelling requirements make the identification of sugar easy on most products. Your real challenge is to become adapted to foods with minimal sugar. But adapt you can.
If you’re looking for a deeper dive into sugar you can’t go wrong with picking up one of Dr Rober H Lustig’s books on the topic. They are accessible to the average reader.
5. Oils/Fats — Out With the Bad, Keep the Good
Eliminate seed oils from your pantry. Common examples are canola oil, soybean oil and foods containing them such as margarine and shortening.
Rationale: Canola oil is one of the “healthy” oils, right? Wrong. The food industry is full of lobby groups — Canola and sugar, for example — to ensure the “right” messages get out. It can be very confusing for the average consumer. This is not about reducing fats. Fats are not the villain they have been made out to be (refer to the Sugar Lobby for insights into how fats got vilified). It’s a rather complex topic but I’ll make it simple. Here’s a fat guide that provides a great summary of fats and oils.
Avoid the bad fats to avoid the inflammation they cause. Replace the bad fats in your pantry with healthy fats. Learn to read ingredient labels to identify foods that may be problems.
One thing to keep in mind. Fats should not be avoided. Low-fat diets have proven to be unhealthy. Your body needs a certain amount of fat to operate well. In fact, some people perform best on a high-fat diet; Keto being one of the most extreme examples.
6. Wheat and Grains
Try to eliminate but if you can’t at least restrict wheat and grains. For a host of reasons, wheat is inflammatory to some degree for everyone.
Rationale: Here we have yet another very popular food category that s associated with significant inflammatory responses. The food industry has done an exemplary job of convincing the public that grains are essential to a balanced diet. They’re not. But any voices to the contrary are met with strong and effective opposition. Grains were introduced into the human diet as a staple with the relatively recent agricultural revolution. Our human biology has not had a chance to evolve to metabolize grains particularly well. But traditional wheat may be tolerable. The problem is with modern wheat which was only developed within the last 50 to 100 years. Specifically, the development of dwarf wheat which is more hardy, drought-resistant, and higher yield than traditional wheat. The development of dwarf wheat virtually eliminated famine in places like India and Pakistan. A wonderful thing for which the developers won a Nobel prize. Dwarf wheat is now grown virtually everywhere. But with significant downsides when compared to traditional wheat. It has a much higher starch content which spikes blood sugar almost like plain sugar. It’s also higher in gliadin proteins that cause inflammation for much of the population. And glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) is used to defoliate and make it easier to harvest.
The inflammatory properties of modern wheat plus the anti-nutrients plus the agricultural practices related to today’s dwarf and semidwarf wheat make it a food to limit as best you can.
7. Refined Carbs
Note, I didn’t say all carbs. Almost any plant-based foods have some carbs. This one is hard because refined and simple carbs are so ubiquitous in our food supply. But you’re better off limiting these.
Rationale: Refined bleached flour, by way of example, is used ubiquitously in homes and bakeries and restaurants everywhere in virtually hundreds of different kinds of everyday foods. The bleaching process requires chemicals. The refining process removes the nutrient-rich bran and germ leaving little in the way of vitamins and minerals. The carbs that are left are quickly broken down into simple sugars for metabolizing.
In fact, this category is a combination of #8 below (processed foods), #4 above (sugar) and #6 above (wheat) with all the downsides. The reason I call this out as a separate category is because of how much of it makes up the SAD (Standard American Diet), and how difficult it is for some people to limit because of the number of food choices it involves.
8. Processed Foods
Deli meats and a great many things you find in boxes and bags in the center isles of the supermarket fall into this category.
Rationale: Steer away from processed foods in favour of minimally processed natural foods. It’s many of those chemical additives that are known to be inflammatory. Or that some future studies reveal to be inflammatory and are then banned. Furthermore, processed foods will often have sugar and unhealthy fats added (as listed above). Just read the ingredients list. The shorter, the better. The simpler, the better. The more pronounceable the ingredients, the better.
9. Other Sources of Inflammation
The list of possible foods that are known to cause inflammation in some people is long. In the list above I have included those food categories that everyone should reduce or eliminate based on solid scientific evidence of their effects on the human body and how our bodies have evolved. There are many other sources that affect some people but are benign to others. If you are experiencing the tell-tale signs of inflammation — gastrointestinal issues, brain fog, leaky gut, skin problems, headaches and more — then it is up to you to track down your own particular sources.
We all have one single guarantee in life — we will die. If you want a healthy and happy longevity before that happens then you do well to take a deliberate approach to implement a strategy that reduces your chances of diminishing quality of life and dying slowly. Address chronic inflammation and you address most of the chronic diseases of ageing.
Stay tuned for your “offensive strategy” coming next.
Now then, what about those cigars, whiskey and ice cream of which centenarian Richard waxed so charmingly? I would advise you to take his advice in the spirit that it was given; with the childlike playfulness that Richard exhibited … a childlike playfulness that perhaps was one of the real secrets to his longevity.
Originally published at https://primalgord.com.
[Published on Medium]