The oldest person in New Jersey died this week. She was 111 years old and lived the final years of her life less than 5 miles from my home. Seeing that headline in the morning newspaper immediately made me think about longevity and the factors that affect life expectancy. It seems the more we learn from and about these hearty centenarians, the more we must all be prepared to answer the question:
If you knew you were going to live to be 100, what would you do differently today?
It is a question worth pondering since health officials using data from the most recent Census predict that by 2050 more than 800,000 Americans will live their lives across two centuries. Another is that research sponsored by the National Institute on Aging found when studying animals that only about 30% of aging is based on genetics. That means as many as 70% of the factors that influence how long we live might be under our own control.
Factors That Affect Life Expectancy
Personal behavior and one's physical environment are two broad categories that influence our life span. Behaviors such as not smoking, not abusing alcohol, eating a plant-based diet, and being physically active every day are shared by those who live the longest. Research has also shown that keeping socially connected, mentally engaged, and easy going are equally important traits.
Some of the environmental risks we can try to control are our exposure to the sun and air pollution, getting immunized, wearing seat belts, and avoiding toxic chemicals in our homes and workplace. Of course it may not be possible to move to a place where the air and water quality are better, but you can use a water filter.
What Are You Waiting For?
The biggest gains in life expectancy made in the last 50 years can be attributed to our ability to treat lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease and cancer. But it has come at great cost and great suffering. We have also learned how to prevent those chronic diseases, but have not been successful motivating people to make the needed changes in their behavior and environments. Maybe the longevity question holds the key?
If you knew you were going to live to be 100, what would you start doing today?