Living to 100: the Mystery Solved!


Full disclosure: this isn’t the revelation of a scientific discovery. More me organizing my thoughts after having had a small epiphany of sorts.

Over the years I’ve been asked the question: “How can I live to 100?” more than once (and once, “200”, by a particularly optimistic patient). The conversations that followed typically included questions about various “hacks” (fasting, ketogenic diet, etc.) and trending concepts (measurement of telomere length, autophagy, etc.), and I would attempt to mold the knowledge we have about these practices and ideas into a cohesive plan of action.

The main challenge, at least to my mind (I’m unsure whether patients recognized my struggle), was the nebulous nature of “living longer”.

As a general practice, one has to have a clear view of the “problem” before a clear solution can be created. “Living longer” (than a person would have otherwise) is kind of like “doing better”. Who can disagree with wanting to “do better”, but better than what?

The secret to human longevity resolved!

Last month I was listening to a conversation between a conventional medical doctor who researches longevity and another expert in some related field. He commented, with dismay, that conventional medicine focusses only on prolonging  life once a patient has a chronic disease.

But once a person has a chronic disease, they are typically (at least statistically), already on the road to a shorter life, it’s only a question of how much shorter (to say nothing of the quality of a long, but “disease symptom having” life)!

The bottom line is: the secret to longevity is to not develop a chronic disease!

On the face of it, this is obvious, but it does help (me) by creating a clear objective. While the scientific evidence for strategies for “lengthening life” is limited and not conclusive, there exists a vast, throughly researched body of evidence for preventing chronic disease.

And much of it is consistent with the what is known about the various measurements that are often associated with measuring lifespan (reducing telomere shortening, triggering autophagy, etc.)

Practically, the plan is similar, but now has more “direction”.

What are the practices we know that support longevity (i.e., prevent disease)?

The most important practices will surprise no one, and importantly are very “actionable”:

  1. Eat a the appropriate amount of nutritions food
  2. Engage in an appropriate amount of exercise
  3. Manage your stress
  4. Let your body recover with adequate, restful sleep
  5. If you are a smoker, stop smoking

(Also important, actionable, but potentially more complex: engage in healthy social relationships).

If it’s that simple, why don’t we all live, disease-free, to 100?

Frankly, because the devil’s in the details!

In my experience, broadly speaking, the two main reasons people don’t successfully change to a more healthful lifestyle are:

  1. They don’t (even) understand their goal
  2. Too much noise, not enough signal
  3. They’re not “ready”, and don’t know how to get to ready

“What are you even trying to do?”

(Similar to me), many people wanting/hoping to live longer do not actually want to live longer in years, they want to improve the quality (which coincidentally  will increase the number) of years they will live. No person dreams of living to 100, but bedridden and in pain beginning at age 50.

Too much noise!

Most persons, by the time they finish their formal education, will have learned how to calculate the angles of a triangle, but will never have been taught, in any meaningful way, what foods, and how much to eat in order to maintain good health.

They won’t know exercise guidelines or how to interpret them.

They won’t have learned any effective stress management strategies.

And they will not understand the value of sleep, or what an appropriate “bedtime” is for an adult (other than “when my show’s over”).

In spite of the volume of information and data available at out fingertips, most people either don’t have the time or the background education to turn the volumes of knowledge into an actionable plan.

That’s where we come in.

They don’t know how to get “ready”.

This has happened to me more times than I can recall over the course of my career: a person with the goal of losing weight makes and appointment and asks me to recommend a “new” diet, because the ones they have tried in the past haven’t worked.

The scientific literature demonstrates that all the “major” diets are effective to some extent (obviously some are “better” than others).

The problem each of these persons is trying to solve is not “finding a better diet”; it’s understanding why they have not been able to be consistent with the dietary changes they’ve attempted in the past. If they don’t understand and change these variables, it doesn’t matter which diet they attempt next. If your foot is a size 12, it doesn’t matter if the shoe you try on is a runner or dress shoe; if it’s a size 8 it won’t fit.

Change is a process. While finding “a good diet” is part of the process, what most persons actually (or, also) need to succeed, is guidance with:

  • Fostering the confidence to start the process (sometimes for the umteenth time) with a “success mindset” – planning and expecting success rather than another round of failure
  • Cultivating mindfulness around lifestyle so that every evening doesn’t end with the disappointment of “Well, I overate at every meal again today.”
  • Creating a “time management” plan to avoid ending every day “Well, I didn’t get to the gym again.”
  • Identifying and fostering strategies to be consistent – slowly transforming “new behaviours” into a lifestyle – easy practices, “hobbies” even, that are second nature and not requiring of discipline or sacrifice

We can help with this too.

And obviously, there are a myriad of specialized assessments that are available.

But that’s not what this post is about (but we can help with that too).

Anyway, those are my thoughts, “freestyle”, on this sunny afternoon, on how to increase longevity, and a few obstacles that explain why the simple is, for many, difficult to achieve.

Thanks for reading!