THE FASTEST-growing segment of the world population now is the very old – it is projected that centenarians will number six million worldwide by the year 2050 and 25 per cent of Western populations will be 60 or over. Lifespans increased by about 30 years over the course of the 20th century and much research is under way to discover how to further lengthen lifespan. Some increases can be expected but there is probably a biological limit to attainable human lifespan. However, the good news is that psychological studies have shown your best bet forstaying young lies in the old saying, “You’re only as old as you feel”
I saw this article on age and I thought, how interesting? Can we really improve our life span by changing the way we think? William Reville, a professor in the Biochemistry Dept and public awareness of science officer at UCC seems to think so.
Living forever is still a science fiction idea but many scientists are exploring ideas that will help us to live longer. According to the article, our telomeres cap the length of our DNA. The more our cells divide, the shorter the telomere becomes. When our telomere is gone, so are our cells’ ability to divide. We begin to age.
The telomere can produce an enzyme called telomerase which repairs the telomere. It is suppressed but if scientists can turn it on, then they say we can really delve into living beyond our years. This is within our control. This is science fact.
It makes me wonder though, if our body is capable of repairing the things that age us, then why does it choose to turn them off? Did some big event occur in our evolution that caused the cells to suppress the enzyme telomerase? Was it ever switched on? If not, then why is it we can produce it?
Why does our body think it necessary to kill us off in our seventies and eighties? Very few people manage to live to ninety and even fewer ring in the century. By turning on telomerase, we are venturing into unchartered territory. For example, if half of the world’s population started to live into their hundreds, they would need to be as active as if they were still in their fifties. Otherwise, there would be a huge demand on assisted living centres, social welfare and don’t get me started on the production costs for pairs upon pairs of slippers.
We would have to re-think our attitude to retirement, people would have to re-consider working for longer and health insurance would need to be revamped. And then there are those slippers. We would be inundated with them.
Our current opinion of the older generation is that they are less able. If we improve our body’s ability to live longer, we would need to rethink that opinion. Are we ready for something that, if all it takes is the flick of a switch, could be a change within our current generation? Society so easily stereotypes people into categories and in particular our older population. Are we mature enough to deal with living longer?
While we are limited by our biological make up- for the moment-, there are things that we can do to improve our lifespan, and the article focuses on changing your mindset and thinking young. Living as though you were twenty years younger is supposed to prolong whatever lifespan restrictions your own body is trying to impose.
We all know the positive connection between active living and brain function. We think clearer if we live less sedentary lives. The article points to a study that was carried out on two older groups by a Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer in 1979, which showed the more active group improved most in mobility and general health.
So next time you wonder where you left those slippers, get up and start moving around like a fifty year old.