“There is nothing more dangerous to us than age. Yet we have conceded its power over us.” – (David Sinclair, Lifespan)
Time and space do not permit us to delve into all the issues raised in Lifespan (and Dr Sinclair touches on numerous issues), but suffice it to say, aging is a loss of information that “leads each of us into a world of heart disease, cancer, pain, frailty, and death.” Biogerontologist David Gems was perhaps the first person to put forward the idea that we should define aging, not as an inevitable part of life, but a “disease process with a broad spectrum of pathological consequences.”
On this way of thinking says Dr Sinclair, “cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions we commonly associate with getting old” are symptoms of the “disease” of aging. He continues, “Heart disease and cancer. Arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Kidney disease and diabetes. Most patients have several additional undiagnosed diseases […].
Yes, these are different ailments with different pathologies […]. But aging is a risk factor for all of them.” But, as the book’s title suggests, it is also about how we can increase our lifespan.
In the midst of all the new scientific research and ideas Dr Sinclair presents (some controversial, some mind-boggling), we end up at a familiar place when it comes to increasing our lifespan: eat less and exercise. “After twenty-five years of researching aging and having read thousands of scientific papers, if there is one piece of advice I can offer, one surefire way to stay healthy longer, one thing you can do to maximize your lifespan right now, it’s this: eat less.”
There is a strong correlation between fasting behaviour and longevity. “Today, human studies are confirming that once-in-a-while calorie restriction can have tremendous health results, even if the times of fasting are quite transient.” Dr Sinclair notes that when we “find clusters of these people, we see that in some cases it doesn’t actually matter what they put into their bodies. They carry a gene variant that puts them into a state of fasting no matter what they eat. As anyone who has ever known a centenarian can attest, it doesn’t take a lifetime of making 100 per cent healthy decisions to reach 100.” Very well then, we should eat less; but what about exercise?
As Cicero (Cato the Elder) puts it, “It is possible, therefore, for a man by exercise and self-control, even in old age, to preserve some of his original vigour.” In 1 Timothy 4:8, Paul mentions the value of exercise: “for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way […].” The benefits of exercise are reflected in our outer shell yes, but more so at the cellular level. “Yes, exercise improves blood flow. Yes, it improves lung and heart health. Yes, it gives us bigger, stronger muscles. But more than any of that—and indeed, what is responsible for much of that—is a simple thing that happens at a much smaller scale: the cellular scale.”
Dr Sinclair continues, “When researchers studied the telomeres in the blood cells of thousands of adults with all sorts of different exercise habits, they saw a striking correlation: those who exercised more had longer telomeres.” According to a study published in 2017, “individuals who exercise more—the equivalent of at least a half hour of jogging five days a week—have telomeres that appear to be nearly a decade younger than those who live a more sedentary life. […]
There’s really no way around this. We all need to be pushing ourselves, especially as we get older, yet only ten per cent of people over the age of 65 do.”
A story in the Wall Street Journal cited a recent study that suggested a link between diet, exercise and Alzheimer’s: “Among healthy patients, people who made changes in nutrition and exercise showed cognitive improvements on average. People who were already experiencing some memory problems also showed cognitive improvement—if they followed at least 60 per cent of the recommended changes.” However, it is unclear “whether the lifestyle changes can actually help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, or simply improve cognition.”
“The days of our life are seventy years,” says the Psalmist (90:10), “or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” We would do well to temper Lifespan with the wisdom of the Psalmist. We do not know if, when, or how the findings presented by Dr Sinclair will play out concerning the average lifespan of Homo Sapiens, but I leave you with this sobering reminder from another ancient voice, the writer of Hebrews, “And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (9:27).
When all is said and done, after all the research papers have been presented and the new advances have been implemented, we are only delaying the inevitable. Delaying the day when we come face to face with the One with an eternal lifespan. What then?