The longevity movement is pushing science to explore the possibilities of keeping people alive well past the age of 100. Recent conferences on radical life extension explore “hacking” various body systems to stop the aging process, diminish genetic telomere changes and defeat death.
Are they all crazy?
The upside to this research is the discovery of behaviors, foods and chemicals, which shorten life and can be changed. From nutrition and exercise to stress reduction through mindfulness, the habits of a healthy lifestyle can be quantified and taught — and even adopted by the most stubborn of people.
The downside to radical life extension is that it might partially work. That changes the appeal considerably. Who wants to be 150 years old if half of your body’s systems work and half do not? The likelihood of medical science solving the related issues of cardiac weakening and brain deterioration, of joint destruction and muscular atrophy, of dental decay and taste reduction, are so low as to be scary.
Who wants to outlive all of one’s friends and family? Who is going to fund your life past age 100? What health care system can afford a society that includes thousands — or millions — of super-aged people? What’s the point of living past the age when you can contribute effectively? Are the perspectives of very, very old people really relevant to youthful societies that they may inhabit, but with whom they hold little in common?
And what about the orthopedic challenges? Life past 100 is a life lived on fragile bones, weak muscles, arthritic joints and often with significant pain. While we are working hard to prevent and repair these problems, reversing the aging process would create a mismatch between age and musculoskeletal function. This will require equally ageless mental, cardiac and sensory systems to utilize our new, mythic god-like physiques.
One is really wishing for a freezing of time — for the eternal body and mind of a 25 year old — rather than to be a 125-year-old stud.
So let’s amuse ourselves with the radical life extension discussions. We’ll take the best of the anti-aging advice to heart and focus the majority of our precious resources on health care rather than disease care.
Remember that living well now is far better than living over-long — and that our great-great-grandchildren really don’t want to support us.
Dr. Kevin R. Stone is an orthopedic surgeon at The Stone Clinic and chairman of the Stone Research Foundation in San Francisco.