There is no such thing as a natural death. Nothing that happens to Man is ever natural, since his presence calls the whole world into question. All men must die, but for every man his death is an accident. And even if he knows it and consents to it, an unjustifiable violation.—J.R.R. Tolkien
Death, as a proposition, doesn’t have much going for it. Given the opportunity, many of us would rather opt out of the whole aging and dying thing and live a life of perpetual health and vitality.
Trouble is, the scientific know-how to stop the processes of aging won’t exist for some time to come.
But don’t despair—the life extension revolution is coming. It’s not a matter of if, but when.
Owing to the pioneering work of such gerontologists as Aubrey de Grey, Cynthia Kenyon and Michael Rose, the goal of achieving negligible senescence has never been closer; the theory is starting to take shape and the road map is being drawn as we speak. Aging is finally being regarded as a disease that can be overcome.
So, if you’re patient and follow some common sense guidelines, you may be able to stick around and see Halley’s Comet return in 2061.
And again in 2137.
Indeed, all bets are now off for predicting life expectancy rates in the 21st Century. Pending breakthroughs in biotechnology, nanotechnology and information technologies will soon make it possible for us to treat an aging body in the same way we would repair an old and worn out machine.
Future treatments are going to make Viagra and Botox look downright medieval:
Your kidneys are failing? No problem, you’ll grow new ones from your own stem cells.
Got cancer? Don’t fret – it’s nothing a bit of cellular reprogramming can’t fix.
Suffering from Alzheimer’s? Sounds like you could use a neural-prosthesis.
Too futuristic? Maybe, but a number of key thinkers are making a strong case for radical life extension arriving as early as two to three decades from a now – a list of thinkers that includes de Grey, futurist Ray Kurzweil, and philosopher Nick Bostrom. Entire communities have arisen to support the prospect, including transhumanists and the immortalists.
More to the point, though—are you going to risk potential immortality by not taking these predictions seriously? Is that mega-gulp of soda and greasy bag of chips really worth squandering ever lasting life?
Because we don’t know for certain when true life extension will come, it’s imperative that you extend your healthy lifespan to the maximum degree possible and not miss out out on the greatest prospect to ever face humanity.
For those of you who are serious about living forever, here are eight things you can do to help you achieve longevity escape velocity:
1. Eat the right foods
In the midst of today’s obesity epidemic and health crisis, it’s hard to believe that food can actually function as medicine. Not only is this proving to be true, but some of the world’s tastiest foods are also the most healthiest.
Take wine, for example, and what’s known as the French Paradox. The French are notorious for having a diet rich in saturated fats, but have relatively low incidences of coronary heart disease. It is widely suspected that regular red wine consumption – another favorite French pastime – has something to do with it.
In fact, research is increasingly revealing that antioxidants – which can be found in red wine – can play a crucial role in extending healthy lifespan. An antioxidant is a molecule that slows or prevents the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation is a chemical reaction that produces free radicals in the body which start chain reactions that damage cells. This damage often goes by another name: aging.
Wine contains a powerful antioxidant called resveratrol which is a sirtuin stimulant that’s been shown to extend life in mammals. Sirtuin is a remarkable class of enzyme that has actually been shown to retard the aging process.
Specifically, it can help control age-related disorders such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes and Parkinson’s. It’s also suspected of being able to fight cancer, heart disease, and degenerative nerve diseases. Remember, though: it has to be red wine; these compounds are typically found in the skins of red grapes.
If you don’t care for red wine there are other food options. The top ten common high antioxidant foods include:
In addition to antioxidants, you need to ensure that you’re getting enough phytonutrients which can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and teas. Not only do they serve as a source of antioxidants, they can enhance immune response and cell-to-cell communication, alter estrogen metabolism, convert to vitamin A, cause cancer cells to die, and repair DNA damage cause by toxins.
You’ll also want to ensure that you’re eating enough fiber to ensure proper digestion – an often undervalued component to proper health. Fiber can be found in prunes, whole wheat, corn bran, flax seed ligands and vegetables such as celery, green beans and potato skins.
And don’t forget to eat your essential fatty acids (EFA’s). You may know these as Omega 3, 6, and 9. Your body can’t produce these on its own, so you need to enrich your diet by eating oily fish like salmon or getting it via supplementation. EFA’s will help your immune response, muscle maintenance, nerves, hormone system, cell division, oxygen transport and kidney function. And as an added benefit, Omega 3’s are also regarded as ‘brain food.’
Finally, ensure that you’re getting enough water. But it can’t be just any water. According to Kurzweil, “consuming the right type of water is vital to detoxifying the body’s acidic waste products and is one of the most powerful health treatments available.” He and Dr. Terry Grossman recommend 8 to 10 glasses of alkaline water per day.
2. Avoid the wrong foods
It’s not enough to eat all the stuff that’s supposed to be good for you – you also have to avoid the crappy foods that sabotage your body and accelerate the aging process.
As with most things in life, moderation is the key. You need to avoid consuming too much saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, animal protein, chemical additives, and overly processed foods. As Dr. Andrew Weil preaches time and time again, learn to read labels. If you feel lost and out of control when it comes to eating, read Weil’s book, Eating Well for Optimum Health.
While good food can act as medicine, bad foods are virtually poisonous over time.
Eating too much sugar and starches will cause you to crave carbohydrates, leading to weight gain and an increased chance of diabetes. Too much sugar can also cause metabolic syndrome and high levels of inflammation which can lead to such conditions as Alzheimer’s, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. A diet rich in fat and protein will increase your risk of heart disease, arteriosclerosis, glucose intolerance and other degenerative processes.
You will also want to avoid foods that are prone to too much pesticide saturation. The following foods contain the most pesticide residue:
If you’re going to eat these foods, just make sure that you wash them extremely carefully.
Ultimately, you will want to reach and maintain your optimal weight. This will go a long way in reducing your chance of developing a number of degenerative diseases like cancer and hypertension.
3. Adopt a calorically restricted diet
Perhaps the most proven method available for increasing healthy lifespan today is caloric restriction (CR). Yes, it’s a radical thing to do, but short-term pain will yield long-term gain.
Very long-term gain.
Numerous studies have shown that mammals live longer when kept near starvation levels. The exact mechanism behind this process is still largely unknown, but there is a likely explanation: when the body is starving it is not in a position to reproduce successfully; our genes know this, so they invest their body’s energy on surviving into the future. A starving body is put into survival mode until the famine is over.
For a calorically restricted diet to work properly it is recommended that men consume about 1,800 calories per day and women about 1,500. It is an involved process that requires much discipline and patience. Virtually every piece of food that is prepared and enters your mouth has to be measured for caloric content and recorded.
But research shows that it does work. Some animal studies reveal as much as a 40% increase in maximum life span. Moreover, CR also provides a number of secondary benefits, including a significantly lowered risk for most degenerative conditions of aging.
4. Supplement your diet with vitamins and minerals
As Ray Kurzweil says, “Be aggressive with your supplementation.” He should know. He consumes hundreds of pills a day. Indeed, according to the American Medical Association, “Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone.”
13 essential vitamins: Vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate)
17 essential minerals: including calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, chromium and zinc
2 essential fatty acids: Omega 3 and 6
Among other things, a proper vitamin and mineral regimen will help you reduce your chances of cancer, irregular neurotransmission and cardiovascular disease.
5. Exercise and be active
We’re becoming an increasingly sedentary society and our health is suffering for it. Being physically active is as important as maintaining a healthy diet. Regular exercise will do wonders for your body and contribute to your overall well-being and health – including lifespan.
There are basically three types of exercise:
Flexibility exercises (such as stretching) will help you improve the range of motion of muscles and joints.
Aerobic exercises such as cycling, walking, running, hiking, and playing tennis will increase your cardiovascular endurance.
Anaerobic exercises such as weight training, functional training or sprinting will increase your short-term muscle strength.
Frequent and regular physical exercise boosts the immune system, increases bone density, and helps prevent diseases like heart disease, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. It also improves mental health and helps prevent depression.
In addition to regular exercise you need to engage in life and keep active. Keep challenging yourself, remain social and work to maintain strong self-esteem and reduce boredom. Keep your brain active and healthy by participating in mind games like puzzles, brain teasers and chess. Studies have shown that a vibrant mind will stand a far better chance of fighting off neurological degeneration like Alzheimer’s.
6. Avoid dangerous activities and unhealthy habits
Avoid activities that yield a high probability of risk. Quitting smoking is the most obvious thing you can do to prevent disease onset.
But as we all know, life can be dangerous, and no matter what we do there’s always the chance of an untimely or accidental death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidents are the fifth leading cause of death—a rate of nearly 40 people per 100,000. This is not too far off compared to the other Big Killers, namely heart disease (219.1), cancer (188.7) and diabetes (48.4).
1. Motor vehicle (MVA): 44.3% 2. Falls: 17.8% 3. Poison (liquid and solid): 13.0% 4. Drowning: 3.9% 5. Fires, burns, and smoke: 3.4% 6. Medical/surgical complication: 3.1% 7. Other land transport: 1.5% 8. Firearms: 0.8% 9. Other (nontransport): 17.8%
I’m not advocating that you live a life of extreme risk aversion. Just exercise common sense and care. Eastern philosophies, for example, advocate a mindful existence in which you are encouraged to be fully aware of yourself and your environment at any given moment. A mindful approach to living is not only mentally healthy, it may also prevent careless accidents.
In addition to being more careful, work to ensure that your life is low stress and minimize your exposure to environmental toxins and pollutants. Visit your doctor regularly for checkups and consider hormone replacement therapy and rejuvenation treatments.
7. Support life extension causes and be socially active
It’s not enough to engage in life extension practices and cross your fingers that somebody out there is working on the problem. For some twisted reason life extension is not a public priority; there are very few people working on the problem and with very little resources.
There are a number of things you can to do help expedite the life extension revolution.
First, support those organizations and institutions who are actively working on life extension and the development of anti-aging interventions. Aubrey de Grey’s Methuselah Foundation is one such group. Find out if your local university has a department working on the problem and what you can do to help, whether it be a donation or your technical expertise.
Second, support the development of ancillary biotechnologies that will be part of the entire anti-aging spectrum of interventions. Specifically, advocate on behalf of regenerative medicine (stem cells, cloning), genomics and molecular nanotechnology.
Third, be active in your community. Create a life extension group in your city and hold regular meetings. Raise awareness. Be an activist. Write letters and start a blog. Educate your local politicians about life extension and let them know what they can do to help facilitate its development.
8. Sign up for cryonics just to be safe
If medical science can’t fix you today, then perhaps the doctors of the future can. The idea behind cryonics is that you should preserve your body after death at an extremely low temperature in the hopes that a future civilization will have the technological know-how to bring you back to life. This is what cryonicists refer to as reanimation.
In all likelihood the technology required would be molecular assembling nanotechnology. The trick is to ensure that the preservation maintains all the “information” in your brain that comprises your mind.
Cryonicists like to joke that being frozen in vat of liquid nitrogen is the second worst thing that can happen to you. Their point is well taken. Cryonics is a low probability solution, but it has a nonzero chance of working. Death without preservation, of course, is a zero probability proposition.
Crossing bridges two and three
Admittedly, these eight strategies are very limited in their approach to bona fide life extension. They are simply meant to help you get to ‘bridge two.’ According to Kurzweil, this second phase of life extension will give us the tools to reprogram our biology and its biochemical information processes.
As he notes, “We’re in the early stages of that revolution already, but in fifteen years we will have, to a large extent, mastery over our biology. That will take us to the third bridge, the nanotechnology revolution, where we can rebuild our bodies and brains at the molecular level. This will enable us to fix the remaining problems that are difficult to address within the confines of biology and ultimately allow us to go beyond the limitations of biology altogether.”
Once we hit this third phase we will have uncovered humanity’s true holy grail: indefinite life.
I hope to see you there.
George P. Dvorsky serves as Chair of the IEET Board of Directors and also heads our Rights of Non-Human Persons program. He is a Canadian futurist, science writer, and bioethicist. He is a contributing editor at io9 — where he writes about science, culture, and futurism — and producer of the Sentient Developments blog and podcast. He served for two terms at Humanity+ (formerly the World Transhumanist Association). George produces Sentient Developments blog and podcast.
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