Sometime back, I heard that one of my distant relatives was celebrating his dad’s hundredth birthday.
His dad was now a centenarian.
A hundred years of life. Unimaginable to most of us, but here was this unassuming gentleman who had not only managed to live a hundred years, but was also hale and healthy enough to celebrate a detailed birthday bash (by the way, the centenarian’s wife lived up to 95!).
When I enquired into what really was the secret behind his longevity, it transpired that the most likely reason was that he kept himself mentally and physically busy all the time – telling stories to kids and helping them in their homework, doing all sorts of small plumbing and gardening jobs around the house, and even running shopping errands until a few years back!
These insights motivated me to learn more about the “secrets” of the oldest people in the world. I subsequently read quite a few news reports on and interviews with folks who were in the record books for living the longest – some as long as almost 120 blooming years!
What amazed me was just not the fact that there are folks who have lived up to 120 years, but also that they did not have any debilitating illnesses even at that age – no high-sugar, no blood pressure, no Parkinsons. (Well, I guess if they had had any of these, they would not have in the first place lived up to such a massive age :-))
What indeed were the secrets behind their long and healthy lives?
Now, if you had imagined that I would come up with some kind of exotic list for the secrets of longevity, you will be surely surprised. In fact, the oldest mentioned – if for the moment you ignore Mr Job – an Indonesian who’s reportedly 145 years old as of Aug 2016 , apparently said of the secret of his longevity – “The recipe is just patience”!
Leaving aside such rather philosophical reasonings behind longevity, if you look at the summary of what many centenarians felt were the secrets, you come across a rather mundane list:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy food
- Keeping oneself physically and mentally busy
- Avoiding unhealthy food and stuff (you know, stuff)
- Getting a good night’s sleep
- Belief in God
The rationalists might object to the last item in the list – hey, I’m just putting down what many of those blokes said.
Now, review your daily life and try answering honestly to yourself on how many of the above (actionable stuff) boxes you can actually tick. Even if you leave out the last one in the list, I will not be surprised if for a large number of readers, fewer than 3 of the 5 boxes are ticked.
Essentially, we have our lifestyle habits all screwed up. And there is a good chance that most of us will fall ill and worse because of our these poor habits. In fact, a recent study from the reputed Mayo Clinic said Sitting is the New Smoking!
At this stage, some of you will point out an apparent contradiction. You may ask – Hey, if we are being less healthy than before, how come the average life expectancy the world over has increased?
The global average life expectancy was about 71.5 years (male and female combined) in 2015. It has increased by about 5 years between 2000 and 2015 – that’s a lot for just a decade and half. But wait, I haven’t finished yet. Between 1900 and 2000, average global life expectancy more than doubled – Wooow!
How can we say that our supposedly poor lifestyles are resulting in poor health when life expectancy has been increasing all along?
I suspect the answer has to do more with the advances in the medical world than with an overall improvement in our health prospects.
The world’s pharma sector revenues in 2015 were $1.1 trillion ($860 billion in 2001 value), from just $390 billion in 2001. Comparing like to like ($390 billion to $860 billion), that’s a 120% increase in pharma expenses, while the population during this period increased by only 18%.
That is, if not for the fabulous medical advances we have made in the last 15 years, and also the significantly enhanced medical infrastructure investments made by governments worldwide, there is a good chance many of us would have dropped off like nine pins and died a while back. I know I sound alarmist, but our lifestyles are so lousy that such a morbid pronouncement might be far closer to reality than we may care to admit.
And then there’s another thing about life that life expectancy stats do not reflect. As the saying in the medical field today goes, “We might have added years to life, but have we added life to years?”. There’s a pretty good chance that the answer is No.
We might be living twenty years longer than our folks did fifty years back, but isn’t it quite possible that we are living the last twenty years of our life ill and diseased, a torture to us as well as to those around us, while those folks fifty years back probably lived far fewer years in miserable health?
“We might have added years to life, but have we added life to years?” – a powerful perspective indeed.
If it is indeed our lifestyle choices that is the main reason for our deteriorating health, what can be done about it?
- We could assume that we will all get super motivated and start having really healthy lifestyles – gimme a break, will you? or
- Take help from technologies that enable you to make these changes without feeling really miserable – sounds more acceptable, doesn’t it?
Interestingly, a range of technologies and tools that have the potential to create a healthier you (in an easy way) has the potential to significantly reduce the environmental harm from our lifestyle activities.
An obvious example is of course bicycling. For many of us, using the bicycle (instead of the car or the motorbike) for doing nearby errands is a doable and sometimes even pleasant way of getting some exercise, and this also implies a little less CO2 released from your exhaust pipes.
What other “technologies” am I talking about in this context that can result in a easier, healthier you? This is partly what the Cleantech Guide is all about. So do, go through sections related to health and wellness – who knows, you might find something useful.