Aging and Longevity 

Aging and Longevity are two different concepts. Aging is something you have been doing every day since you were born.  Longevity tracks how long we have been alive. When someone asks how old I am and I reply, 84, I am really reporting my longevity, how long I have been alive.   I know it can be confusing because we tend to use the words 'age' and 'aging' interchangeably and we seldom use the world longevity.

   As long as you are alive Aging is inevitable.  If you ever stop aging, you will be dead. 

When we were young, we really wanted to age. Seven year olds want to 'grow up' and be older.  Turning 18 or 21 is celebrated by most people because those ages open the doors to many of the privileges of the adult word.  

The concept of longevity is different - it tracks how long we have been alive.  Most of us  track our longevity on  an annual basis- we count  birthdays.  Birthdays are the measure of our current longevity.                                                                                                                                        But there are other questions, what determines how long we live?  Do we have any control over our longevity? Is great longevity a good thing or would we be better off dying while we are young or middle aged?

As we grow older one of two things happen. If we live in a culture where longevity is treasured and elders are respected,  we really look forward to growing past adulthood and becoming an 'elder' in our society. (Click to read more about Elderhood)

But if we live in a culture which values youths more than it values elders, we can get caught up in in a search for 'anti-aging' techniques - ways to look younger, act younger than we are. We spend time and money on anti-aging products and procedures. But that is not the same thing as real longevity - the living of a long life.

Most people desire longevity.  We want to see our children grow up and Yes, our grand children too....maybe even our great grand children. Wouldn't that be nice?   

Many of us wonder if there  is some special key to living a long life?  Is our lifespan determined by the genes we were born with?  Or does our lifestyle affect the length of our lives?

There are ads that promise us a long life if we, "Do this.", "Eat that", "Take this supplement" or 'Buy some special program and follow it." You probably wonder if these actions really count. What really matters for increasing longevity?

You probably know that  Japan has the longest lived people. Japanese men have a life expectancy of 83 years and Japanese women 90 years.  The country with the next longest lived population is Andora, the small country in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France .

Japan is an Island nation. Andora is in the mountains. Very different places. And yet both have long lived populations ( If you want to know the average life expectancy for women or for men in your country just click:   International Aging Longevity chart. 

National life expectancy is one thing. But what of your personal life expectancy?

What determines your own aging and longevity?

Some researchers have said our life span comes with our genes. If you come from long lived genetic stock, you are likely to have a long life. If not, you are likely to die at a younger age.  According this theory, you can get a good sense of your own life span by looking how long your parents and grandparents lived. It is all in your genetic code.

Although there seems to be some truth in this theory, we all can think of examples where it did not apply. A young person born into a long lived family dies at an early age.  Or another person outlives every one in the family. Clearly it is not be 'just genes' that determines longevity.

Still as the study of personal genetic makeup has become more common, there are many scientists who search for what has been named the longevity gene.  (If you want to read about those studies, click: Finding the Longevity Gene  )  

Although most scientists recognize that genes play some part in how long you will live,  they now say that genetics is only about 20% of the cause of your individual life span.  Other things are more important - things that are under our personal control.                         

  1. Diet, exercise.  Some scientists claim that your diet and how much exercise you get are more important than your genes.
  2. Stress. Other scientists claim that  the level of stress you experience through life is they key to understanding how long you will live. (You've heard it: STRESS KILLS).
  3. Supplement companies point to studies of one or another supplement that has been associated with longevity.  (Of course they just happen to sell those supplements.)
  4. Attitude.  Yes, attitude seems to be the one factor that favors a long life for many people.   Attitude?  Yes, attitude. In study after study, among he sick or the well, the one thing that seems to predict a long life is something called Dispositional Optimism.  Yes, you read that right. A dispositionally positive attitude seems to be the most common factor found  among those who live the longest.                                                       And this is true even when comparing persons with serious, life threatening illnesses. In study after study of persons with severe illness, those with what researchers call an 'optimistic outlook' outlast others .  And this also holds true among those who are not sick ....persons in good health.
  5. So, attitude is everything! You might have heard a sports coach say that to players.  But what is interesting is that it has also been shown true when your goal is a long life.

To read more about Dispositional Optimisim, what it is and how you can acquire it, click: Dispositional Optimisim and Longevity.

End of section: Aging and longevity.   You will additional articles on this topic at: Science of longevity

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