Aging – The Long Now
A Guest Blog by DeepThinker Oh
AMP and WBH - co-sponsors of the Healthful Aging Through Lifelong Learning Conference - are pleased to share a guest blog by DeepThinker Oh about taking a long (really long) view of humanity’s future.
There is a long-term project, one not actually associated with aging, called the Long Now. The goal of the project is to put human society in perspective by taking a long view of our history and future. To this end, one of their major projects is a giant, mechanical clock designed to run for 10,000 years. It is truly a marvel of sustainable engineering (see their website below). The reason for making a clock that is intended to run for millennia is to help people keep the long view of the future in mind.
Proponents of Zen point to the value of being in the present moment, but the future of our Earth depends on keeping an eye on the future long-term. The same can be said of human aging. If we wish to live long, healthy, and productive lives we need to know what behaviors to embrace and which ones to avoid. Identifying what those behaviors are has been a difficult task. In the novel The Sign of the Four, Sherlock Holmes said, “… while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant…”
Putting Time Into Perspective
No suggestions for living a long life can have any meaning unless they can be tested against the time span of a life. Real knowledge of the behaviors that promote a long life requires studying people from birth to death and then seeing what set of lifetime behaviors result in the longest lives. Genetics is also important here as well. The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) has conducted a long-term study of aging since 1958. The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA) has had 3,200 participants since inception, and 1,300 men and women are currently in the study. NIH summarizes the study so far with the following two generalizations:
1) Aging is not disease; and
2) No one set of behaviors leading to a long, healthy life can be defined.
According to the BLSA, “There is still much to learn, but so far two major conclusions can be drawn from BLSA data. First, ‘normal’ aging cannot be distinguished from disease. Although people’s bodies change and can in some ways decline over time, these changes do not inevitably lead to diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, or dementia.
“Second, no single, chronological timetable of human aging exists. We all age differently. In fact, in terms of change and development, there are more differences among older people than among younger people. Genetics, lifestyle, and disease processes affect the rate of aging between and within all individuals.”
Sherlock Holmes’ 19th century conclusion appears to be justified.
Another long-term Harvard graduate study has resulted in some specific recommendations. This longitudinal study initially began in 1938 with 268 Harvard graduates and has continued until now. The study has a restricted sample because Harvard graduates are from a limited demographic and were initially all men. Women have since been added.
George Vaillant, the leader of the study from 1972 until 2004, wrote that six factors predicted healthy aging for the Harvard men: physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, a healthy weight, and a stable marriage. For the inner-city men, education was an additional factor. “The more education the inner city men attained,” wrote Vaillant, “the more likely they were to stop smoking, eat sensibly, and use alcohol in moderation.”
The Key to Healthy Aging
“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Vaillant. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
As for me. I am drinking an empirically derived amount of water daily but only one Guinness a day, working with my horse five days a week, walking 10,000 steps most every day and publishing my first novel. How’s that working out? Only time will tell.
- Deepy (Deepthinker Oh)
Deepy (Deepthinker Oh) is an educational psychologist with a long standing love of journalism and previous experience as the editor of MANIERA Magazine. Deepthinker Oh's use of the SLBN logo does not constitute approval or endorsement by Linden Lab.
This column is part of the upcoming conference, “Healthful Aging Through Lifelong Learning.”
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